Julio Postigo was awarded the 2012 Outstanding Dissertation Award for the study areas of Social Sciences, Business and Education. Julio began in the doctoral program in the Department of Geography & the Environment in 2007. Previously, he completed his M.A. degree in 2006 in Latin American Studies.
His dissertation is entitled “Responses of Plants, Pastoralists, and Governments to Social Environmental Changes in the Peruvian Southern Andes.” He found that the ecological and social systems in the Andes Mountains are responding not only to climate change, but also to simultaneous changes in social, economic, and political factors. The fieldwork involved vegetation sampling, household and community interviews, and analyses of governmental responses. His dissertation supervisor was Dr. Kenneth Young. The other committee members were Drs. Kelley Crews, William Doolittle, Gregory Knapp, and Camille Parmesan.
Julio continues to do research on global environmental change, as informed especially by social science and interdisciplinary approaches.The Outstanding Dissertation Award included a $3000 prize.
Abstract of his dissertation: Anthropogenic global changes are altering properties and functions of social and ecological systems at multiple spatial and temporal scales. In addition to climate change, the Peruvian Southern Andes has also experienced dramatic political and social change. This dissertation addresses the responses of plants, humans, communities and sub-national governments to the impacts of these changes. Methods from both the social and natural sciences were used at three levels: 1) on the forelands of the Quelccaya ice cap a chronosequence approach was used and 113 quadrats (1m2) sampled the vegetation covering an altitudinal range from 5113 to 4830 m.a.s.l.; 2) with the households of herders in the Quelcaya community surveys, interviews, participant observation, and archival research were employed; and 3) with the three Regional Governments (Arequipa, Cusco, and Puno) interviews with officials and stakeholders were conducted. The results show an upward displacement of the elevational limit of plants and a trend towards homogenization of vegetation. Warming climate, a shortened rainy season, and longer dry and cold spells are the most relevant impacts of climate change in the study area. Responses to these changes occur within households, supra-household units and communities, through dynamic institutions, traditional knowledge, and flexible polycentric social organization. These responses originate from path dependencies generated by human-environment interactions in the Peruvian Southern Andes. For instance, pastoralists increased livestock mobility within their pastures, created wetlands through irrigation, and introduced agriculture of bitter potatoes. The women agriculturalists modified the productive calendar to adjust agricultural tasks to changes in the rainfall regime; they replaced maize for wheat and fava bean, because these crops are more resistant to cold spells. Agro-pastoralists increase institutional water governance and demand infrastructure to improve efficient water use. Synergies between local and regional adaptive responses to climate change may be led by projects like building irrigation infrastructure and strengthening local resource governance, although there are also disjunctions that limit adaption. Local social ecological systems are adaptive and resilient to multi-scale social environmental disturbances by a malleable forging of former strategies to face change, innovation, polycentric social organization, and a dynamic institutional body that promptly response to change.