The art and science of developing effective policies and practices to enhance sustainability and adapt to new climate conditions on rangelands and savannas are typically founded on addressing the “average” or “typical” resource user. However, this assumption is flawed since it does not appreciate the extent of diversity among resource users; it risks that strategies will be irrelevant for many people and ignored, and that the grazing resource itself will remain unprotected. Understanding social heterogeneity is vital for effective natural resource management. Our aim was to understand the extent to which graziers in the northern Australian rangelands varied in their capacity to adapt to climate variability and recommended practices. Adaptive capacity was assessed according to four dimensions: 1) the perception of risk, 2) skills in planning, learning and reorganising, 3) financial and emotional flexibility, and 4) interest in adapting. We conducted 100 face-to-face interviews with graziers in their homes obtaining a 97% response rate. Of the 16 possible combinations that the four dimensions represent, we observed that all combinations were present in the Burdekin. Any single initiative to address grazing land management practices in the region is unlikely to address the needs of all graziers. Rather, policies could be tailored to type-specific needs based on adaptive capacity. Efforts to shift graziers from very low, low, or moderate levels of adaptive capacity are urgently needed. We suggest some strategies.
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