Desert Pastoralists’ Negative and Positive Effects on Rare Wildlife in the Gobi

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Argali, Human–wildlife conflict, Livestock, Mongolia, Pastoralism, Wolves

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College of Natual Science and Mathematics, Biological Sciences


In arid regions of the developing world, pastoralists and livestock commonly inhabit protected areas, resulting in human–wildlife conflict. Conflict is inextricably linked to the ecological processes shaping relationships between pastoralists and native herbivores and carnivores. To elucidate relationships underpinning human–wildlife conflict, we synthesized 15 years of ecological and ethnographic data from Ikh Nart Nature Reserve in Mongolia's Gobi steppe. The density of argali (Ovis ammon), the world's largest wild sheep, at Ikh Nart was among the highest in Mongolia, yet livestock were >90% of ungulate biomass and dogs >90% of large‐carnivore biomass. For argali, pastoral activities decreased food availability, increased mortality from dog predation, and potentially increased disease risk. Isotope analyses indicated that livestock accounted for >50% of the diet of the majority of gray wolves (Canis lupus) and up to 90% of diet in 25% of sampled wolves (n = 8). Livestock composed at least 96% of ungulate prey in the single wolf pack for which we collected species‐specific prey data. Interviews with pastoralists indicated that wolves annually killed 1–4% of Ikh Nart's livestock, and pastoralists killed wolves in retribution. Pastoralists reduced wolf survival by killing them, but their livestock were an abundant food source for wolves. Consequently, wolf density appeared to be largely decoupled from argali density, and pastoralists had indirect effects on argali that could be negative if pastoralists increased wolf density (apparent competition) or positive if pastoralists decreased wolf predation (apparent facilitation). Ikh Nart's argali population was stable despite these threats, but livestock are increasingly dominant numerically and functionally relative to argali. To support both native wildlife and pastoral livelihoods, we suggest training dogs to not kill argali, community insurance against livestock losses to wolves, reintroducing key native prey species to hotspots of human–wolf conflict, and developing incentives for pastoralists to reduce livestock density.

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