The trees come marching: The role of traditional ecological knowledge in understanding social-ecological change in the central Pyrenees of Spain
Since the mid-20th century, the Spanish Pyrenean pastoral social-ecological system has undergone socio-economic and demographic transformations leading to changes in grazing practices and an overall decline in the livestock industry. The abandonment of previously grazed pastures has contributed to an ecological transition from herbaceous vegetation cover to shrublands and forests. These changes in land cover affect ecological functions and ecosystem services, including a decline in biodiversity and diminished value for agriculture and livestock husbandry. It is uncertain whether a vibrant pastoral land use system, and associated rural culture and society, will be able to persist or reestablish in the region. Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is theorized to be an important resource for adaptation, constituting a cultural memory analogous to the ecological memory contained in a seek bank.
I interviewed 27 ganaderos in two valleys of the central Pyrenees of Spain, to document their TEK, record their observations of environmental change, and analyze how their TEK may help them adapt to future changes in the environment and economy. I used poetic analysis, a qualitative data analysis approach, to illustrate ganaderos’ understandings and experiences of social-ecological change in the Pyrenees, especially shrub encroachment, its causes and consequences.
In poem form, interview data reveal deep emotional and cultural dimensions of change, as well as reservoirs of ecological and practical knowledge, adaptive capacities, and barriers to adaptation. These results illustrate the value of TEK to understanding social-ecological transitions, and the power of poetic analysis to communicate them.