Tundra ecosystems are vulnerable to hydrocarbon development, in part because small-scale, low-intensity disturbances can affect vegetation, permafrost soils, and wildlife out of proportion to their spatial extent. Scaling up to include human residents, tightly integrated arctic social-ecological systems (SESs) are believed similarly susceptible to industrial impacts and climate change. In contrast to northern Alaska and Canada, most terrestrial and aquatic components of West Siberian oil and gas fields are seasonally exploited by migratory herders, hunters, fishers, and domesticated reindeer (Rangifer tarandus L.). Despite anthropogenic fragmentation and transformation of a large proportion of the environment, recent socioeconomic upheaval, and pronounced climate warming, we find the Yamal-Nenets SES highly resilient according to a few key measures. We detail the remarkable extent to which the system has successfully reorganized in response to recent shocks and evaluate the limits of the system's capacity to respond. Our analytical approach combines quantitative methods with participant observation to understand the overall effects of rapid land use and climate change at the level of the entire Yamal system, detect thresholds crossed using surrogates, and identify potential traps. Institutional constraints and drivers were as important as the documented ecological changes. Particularly crucial to success is the unfettered movement of people and animals in space and time, which allows them to alternately avoid or exploit a wide range of natural and anthropogenic habitats. However, expansion of infrastructure, concomitant terrestrial and freshwater ecosystem degradation, climate change, and a massive influx of workers underway present a looming threat to future resilience.
2009. Vol. 106, no 52, 22041-22048 p.