Morocco's rangelands cover an area of over 500,000 km2, are mainly located in arid areas and play economic, sociocultural and environmental roles. Since the mid-1970s, the high plateaus of eastern Morocco (HPEM), which are the country's second largest pastoral ecosystem, have shown obvious manifestations of climate change (CC), thus threatening their sustainability and that of the rangelands- based small ruminant production, the main source of livelihood for the local population. Despite livestock rearing on rangelands is highly vulnerable to CC and the understanding of pastoralists’ perceptions is critical for designing more efficient and successful adaptation strategies, how the livestock producers perceive CC is still not studied. This paper aims to detect the main long-term changes that have affected climatic conditions in the HPEM and to assess the consistency between the perception of pastoralists with regard to CC and actual climate trends observed from historical meteorological data. The climate data used include the annual rainfall of 6 meteorological stations, namely Bni Mathar (1931-2019), Tendrara (1931-2019), Bouaârfa (1981-2019), Figuig (1935-2019), Taourirt (1923-2019) and Oujda (1914-2019) and the temperature data from the stations of Bni Mathar (1970-2016) and Oujda (1935-2020). To investigate the trends and ruptures in homogeneity within these climatic series, the Mann-Kendall, Pettitt and Buishand tests were performed, while the standardized precipitation index was used to detect years of drought. Data on CC perceptions were examined using frequency analysis.
Rainfall data indicated a general drop in annual amounts of precipitation with a significant downward trend for the stations existing in the north part of the study area, namely Bni Mathar (τb = -0.194, p = 0.007), Taourirt (τb = -0.217, p = 0.002) and Oujda (τb = -0.189, p = 0.004). These stations showed, respectively, rupture dates located at 1976, 1976 and 1980, with rainfall losses of 23, 30 and 22%. The mean (τb = 0.553, p < 0.0001; τb = 0.311, p < 0.0001) and minimum (τb = 0.647, p < 0.0001; τb = 0.333, p < 0.0001) temperatures have experienced a significant increasing trend, respectively for the stations of Bni Mathar and Oujda. The minimum temperature showed the greatest rise either 2.7 °C (39%) between the periods before and after the rupture date of 1988 for Bni Mathar, and of 1.1°C (11%) between the periods before and after 1986 for the Oujda station. The frequency of droughts has increased over the past five decades, showing high values ranging from 43% in the south of the HPEM to 57% in the northern part. Indeed, the frequency of dry years has risen considerably between
the two periods before and after 1976, with an average increase of 26 to 49% (i.e., 88%). Results indicated that the overwhelming majority of livestock producers have observed decrease in rainfall (100%) as well as an increase in the frequency of droughts (97%), temperature (82%), high winds (81%) and sandstorms (87%) during the last five decades. Therefore, the pastoralists’ perceptions of CC matched well with the trends observed in the historical meteorological data and the findings of previous studies. To deal with the negative consequences of these observed unfavorable trends arising from CC and improve the resilience of pastoralists, public policies and programs should urgently develop and implement effective and appropriate adaptation actions and jointly integrate pastoralists' perceptions and recorded meteorological data in future climate research.