OOS 30-8 - Traditional ecological knowledge of climate change: Reaffirimng natural history’s multicultural roots to advance biocultural restoration

Wednesday, August 8, 2012: 4:00 PM
A107, Oregon Convention Center
Gary Paul Nabhan, Southwest Center, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

Traditional ecological knowledge and the natural history observations of contemporary indigenous people are a largely untapped source of both data and viable hypotheses regarding climate change, its impact on biota, and the potential for habitat restoration and species recovery. I have set out to establish the efficacy of the approach of integrating TEK and repeated natural history observations using wild and domesticated Capsicum annuum as a lens through which to assess change. Since the mid-1970s, I have used chiltepin harvester’s fees for gathering green and red wild chiles as well as retail store prices as an indicator of the impact of climate uncertainty on fruit productivity in the Sierra Madre foothills of Sonora.


Over the four decades of periodic data collection, chiltepin prices have increased twentyfold, largely due to catastrophic freezes and droughts. My results—adjusted to inflation—suggest that catastrophic weather events putatively linked to long-term climate change not only reset the demographic clocks for certain woody perennials, but also restructure human-plant interactions, forcing more dependence on cultivated rather than wild harvests. More importantly, indigenous harvesters are adapting to climate change and suggesting strategies for restoration that are not widely discussed in the broader scientific community. Some of these strategies are consistent with the concept of assisted migration, a principle that will be easier to apply in culturally-managed landscapes than in wild/depopulated landscapes.