Shifting baselines on a tropical forest frontier: Extirpations drive declines in local ecological knowledge

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Abstract

The value of local ecological knowledge (LEK) to conservation is increasingly recognised, but LEK is being rapidly lost as indigenous livelihoods change. Biodiversity loss is also a driver of the loss of LEK, but quantitative study is lacking. In our study landscape in SW China, a large proportion of species have been extirpated. Hence, we were interested to understand whether species extirpation might have led to an erosion of LEK and the implications this might have for conservation. So we investigated peoples' ability to name a selection of birds and mammals in their local language from pictures. Age was correlated to frequency of forest visits as a teenager and is likely to be closely correlated to other known drivers of the loss of LEK, such as declining forest dependence. We found men were better at identifying birds overall and that older people were better able to identify birds to the species as compared to group levels (approximately equivalent to genus). The effect of age was also stronger among women. However, after controlling for these factors, species abundance was by far the most important parameter in determining peoples' ability to name birds. People were unable to name any locally extirpated birds at the species level. However, contrary to expectations, people were better able to identify extirpated mammals at the species level than extant ones. However, extirpated mammals tend to be more charismatic species and several respondents indicated they were only familiar with them through TV documentaries. Younger people today cannot experience the sights and sounds of forest animals that their parents grew up with and, consequently, knowledge of these species is passing from cultural memory. We suggest that engaging older members of the community and linking the preservation of LEK to biodiversity conservation may help generate support for conservation. © 2014 Kai et al.

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Kai, Z., Woan, T. S., Jie, L., Goodale, E., Kitajima, K., Bagchi, R., & Harrison, R. D. (2014). Shifting baselines on a tropical forest frontier: Extirpations drive declines in local ecological knowledge. PLoS ONE, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0086598

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