1. Participatory research methodologies incorporating local knowledge are important to the success of ecological research and the sustainable management of natural systems. However, methods of this type are not commonly employed in the natural sciences. 2. We adopted a scientifically rigorous ethnographic research methodology to incorporate local knowledge into understanding a natural limnological phenomenon in the Brazilian Pantanal. Known locally as 'dequada', it is associated with fish kills. 3. Using primarily open-ended questions and semi-structured interviews, 30 older head-of-household men were interviewed, by the same interviewer, in a small community representative of the few local riverside settlements. Their opinions were then contrasted with current scientific knowledge. 4. In concordance with the scientific community, the local community cited decomposition of organic material as the principal cause of fish mortality due to the dequada. Local people therefore can have a well-founded understanding of their environment. 5. This study demonstrates the importance of incorporating local knowledge to corroborate and, often, to guide the process of scientific inquiry. In this case, local knowledge added to scientific knowledge by providing a more complete understanding of the management and conservation of a natural system. We recommend that ecologists should be ready to acknowledge that local understanding can be greater than that of 'outsiders'.
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