From mangrove to milpa: what determines resilience to extreme weather events in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography


Available meteorological records show that the world's weather is becoming more variable and more extreme and that these extremes are becoming more costly in terms of both insured and uninsured losses to infrastructure, crops, housing and natural ecosystems. The relative impact of, and vulnerability to, these events is highest in developing economies. In Mexico the economic cost of extreme events increased 30x between 1980-99 and 2000-2012 and climate change projections indicate that the country will experience more extreme weather, as well as more intense droughts. Within Mexico, the Yucatan peninsula has been identified as being unusually vulnerable to climate change in part because of its low rainfall, high temperatures and frequent tropical storms (including the most intense hurricanes), but also because of the continuing importance of small scale, near subsistence farming and fishing and a high indigenous (Maya) population who are economically disadvantaged. Better understanding of what makes communities, and particular sectors of communities, more or less resilient in the face of extreme weather events will help in the development of effective adaptation strategies at local, regional and national scales in a context of a changing climate. Achieving this means drawing together researchers from a range of disciplinary backgrounds (spanning the natural and social sciences and humanities) to develop a common research methodology. For this research to be relevant and practical in terms of real world problems, it also needs to be developed with input from the potential users and/or beneficiaries of the work. This project brings together a team of experts from UK and Mexican research institutions, all of whom have experience of working in the Yucatan on different aspects of weather and climate (especially drought) but largely with a particular focus (e.g. the role of gender in understanding and coping with extreme weather, ecosystem sensitivity to drought). Here, they will work together and with our existing networks of federal and state government agencies (such as the Secretariat for the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), the Gender and Environment Network (RGMA), the Secretariat for Urban Development and Environment Yucatan (SEDUMA) and the National Protected Areas Commission (CONANP)) and community groups (e.g U'yool'che a sustainable agriculture collective). This work will be focused on three specific study regions, one on the north coast of the peninsula where hurricanes are a particular problem and two further south, where drought is more of a concern, one where subsistence farming dominates and one where commercial agriculture is more important. These geographically specific studies will be complemented by work to exploit the availability of new, high resolution satellite imagery from the ESA's Sentinel-2 and -3 platforms to track landuse and vegetation change and work on the data available from the region's network of meteorological stations. Taken together these approaches will allow a fuller assessment of which parts of the peninsula are most vulnerable to extreme events and the impacts these have on the natural and managed environment, of what makes communities more or less vulnerable and their strategies for adaptation. The specific goal will be to develop a protocol for determining resilience which will support policy makers and communities in making decisions about how to cope more effectively with the negative impacts of a changing climate on economic development and quality of life through better understanding and improved communication.

Planned Impact

Who might benefit?
The key aim of this proposal is to build capacity to address the additional challenges to development posed by the environmental hazards of droughts and major tropical storms (especially hurricanes), in the context of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. This will be achieved by a) building research capacity and methodologies and b) effective knowledge exchange and translation between academic researchers and public bodies (here primarily agencies of federal and state governments), community groups and other interested third sector parties. The research team already has an extensive network of non-academic partners and collaborators (see Pathways to Impact and letters of support from Project Partners) and these will be the main beneficiaries of this research. In the context of Mexico, it has been recognised that whilst the country has a clearly articulated strategy for climate change mitigation, its adaptation strategies are rather weakly developed, with few in-depth studies of what determines integrated socio-ecological systemic resilience. National and state climate change strategy documents highlight the need to reduce vulnerability and increase resilience, both for the human population and natural ecosystems, but it is less clear how this might be achieved and policies and practice need more examples and better understanding of what determines resilience. At community level, concerns over climatic variability and climatic change are interwoven with a changing economic and social landscape resulting from economic liberalisation, the impact of federal government financial support schemes, migration and internal factors around power and communication, often determined by cultural norms and practices. An appreciation of the local and particular is important if state policies (driven in turn by federal policies) are to be successful in reducing the vulnerability to, and impacts of, climate-related natural hazards. In turn, improving local understanding of the wider 'landscape' of climate risks will be valuable.

How might they benefit?
a) research capacity - this will be built through participation in a collaborative, multi-disciplinary research network. There will be a focus on developing early career researchers; three will be employed on the project, two in Mexico and one in the UK (the named researcher is Mexican national who has been carrying out her PhD in the UK). They will play an important role in defining the project and developing the research protocol which is central to this proposal. Working with government agencies and community groups will benefit all the researchers involved to develop and improve skills of communication and knowledge translation. b) effective knowledge exchange with users/beneficiaries. The co-production of a research methodology to explore climate-impacts resilience will enable more effective strategies to be developed at community, municipal and state level to reduce the negative impacts of extreme weather, which in turn impact on poverty alleviation and development goals, in both the short and longer term. Examples of effective adaptation practices, linked to strategies for more effective communication of risks and improved preparedness will be drawn from the research and shared and discussed with our partner organisations.


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Description The project successfully led to the development of a new research network across 5 institutions (2 UK, 3 Mexican). We were able to develop new inter-disciplinary ways of working (ranging from anthropology to remote sensing and climatology) to explore perceptions of and responses to extreme weather events (droughts and hurricanes) in selected communities across the Yucatan Peninsula. We have both strengthened existing partnerships with community members and organisations and developed new partnerships within Mexico.
Exploitation Route We are currently working on outputs which will make our findings more widely available. Broader dissemination to the communities who contributed to the project and to potential interested agencies and policy makers will follow. We anticipate that these findings will be of benefit to rural communities in Mexico, specifically in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description GCRF Building Resilience additional funding
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2017 
End 10/2017
Description Co-investigator Schmook 
Organisation El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR)
Country Mexico 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Co-investigators on grant.
Collaborator Contribution Led fieldwork in key communities in Mexico, bringing knowledge, expertise and contacts at community and institutional levels. Contributed to workshop. Contributing to writing up academic papers.
Impact None to date.
Start Year 2016
Description co-investigator Bautista 
Organisation National Autonomous University of Mexico
Country Mexico 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution co-investigators on grant
Collaborator Contribution Knowledge and expertise on Yucatan soils and climate. Participant in workshop. Contributing to writing up academic papers.
Impact None to date.
Start Year 2016
Description co-investigator Munguia Gill 
Organisation Autonomous University of Yucatán
PI Contribution Co-investigators on grant
Collaborator Contribution Field work in communities. Brought knowledge, expertise and contacts at community and institutional levels. Co-organiser of workshop. Contributing to writing outputs.
Impact None so far
Start Year 2016
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Two day workshop. Day 1 was focused on the academic members of the project team presenting the results of the work to date to members of the communities involved and getting their feedback/comments. The final session was devoted to all participants giving their perspectives on the impacts of drought and hurricanes on aquatic environments (coastal and inland), health, soils and ecosystems. Day 2 was targeted at stakeholders, policy makers and other academics working on aspects of climate change and resilience across the region. This included short presentations derived from those on Day 1 but developed following input from the community representatives. Two community representatives presented the findings of the final session of day 1 and commented on them from their perspectives. There were also presentations from other researchers working on aspects of climate change, impacts and resilience, including governmental and non-governmental organisations . The participants split into groups to discuss: What do people suggest to reduce vulnerabilities? What have people done in different areas (the 3 study areas and Yucatan in general? Who has what data sets and what research findings that might be useful? What needs to be done? Rapporteurs gave feedback on each of these themes. It was clear that a lot of activity was going on, but that this needed to be better integrated; there was a need for information about extreme events, their impacts and possible actions to reduce vulnerability to be made available to the wider public in a clear and easily digestible format; it was agreed that it was a challenge to integrate public policy actions across the different scales from the community, to the municipality and then state levels.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017