To effectively address global rapid socio-environmental change, the International Long-Term Ecological Research (ILTER) network offers an ideal platform to integrate research at multiple ecological, cultural, and political scales. Despite the integration of socio-ecological factors at ILTER sites during the last two decades, there is still a serious limitation to foster cultural transformation due to a lack of integrating philosophy into research and education. A main obstacle to solve in this limitation is the lack of methodology to integrate science and ethics into ILTER research and education programs. To resolve this limitation, at the Americas’ southernmost ILTER site (Omora Park, founding member of the Chilean Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research network, LTSER-Chile) we have developed a methodological approach that we call “field environmental philosophy” (FEP).
FEP’s methodology can enhance and complement research and education programs at ILTER sites around the world. To integrate ecological research and environmental ethics into biocultural education and conservation practices, FEP has defined a 4-step cycle which is applicable at most ILTER sites. Here we assess the effectiveness of the 4-step cycle by recording and analysing the results achieved by students that have participated in FEP courses at Omora Park, Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, Chile, between 2014 and 2017.
In three field courses conducted at Omora Park during the study period, FEP’s 4-step cycle has included: i) interdisciplinary ecological and philosophical research, ii) poetic communication and composition of metaphors through analogical thinking, iii) design of field experiences guided with an ecological and ethical orientation, and iv) implementation of scientific, philosophical and artistic interpretive signs in conservation areas. A first significant set of results was that students recovered practices that were essential to naturalists until recently: (a) observing and drawing nature (b) reading philosophical texts to better understand assumptions and paradigms underlying scientific research; (c) having field experiences to more integrally understand in-situ the diversity and complexity of ecological and cultural systems. These practices have allow them to better understand and integrate interrelated biophysical and cultural dimensions involved in long-term ecological and socio-ecological research, and its application to environmental policy, education and conservation programs, including ecotourism among them. A second set of results was that students gained a capacity to create biocultural (ecological, socio-ecological) narratives, including drawing of interpretive signs implemented at Omora Park and other ILTER sites, and protected areas. These narratives show students (and other participants) novel ways to understand and value complex ecological and cultural systems.