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Integrating Traditional and Evolutionary Knowledge in Biodiversity Conservation: a Population Level Case Study

Dylan J Fraser, Department of Biology, Dalhousie University
Thomas Coon, Cree Trapper's Association
Michael R. Prince, Cree Nation of Mistissini, Quebec
Rene Dion, Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec
Louis Bernatchez, Department of Biology, Laval University

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Abstract

Despite their dual importance in the assessment of endangered/threatened species, there have been few attempts to integrate traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and evolutionary biology knowledge (EBK) at the population level. We contrasted long-term aboriginal TEK with previously obtained EBK in the context of seasonal migratory habits and population biology of a salmonid fish, brook charr, (Salvelinus fontinalis) inhabiting a large, remote postglacial lake. Compilation of TEK spanning four decades involved analytical workshops, semidirective interviews, and collaborative fieldwork with local aboriginal informants and fishing guides. We found that TEK complemented EBK of brook charr by providing concordant and additional information about (1) population viability; (2) breeding areas and migration patterns of divergent populations; and (3) the behavioral ecology of populations within feeding areas; all of which may ultimately affect the maintenance of population diversity. Aboriginal concerns related to human pressures on this species, not revealed by EBK, also help to focus future conservation initiatives for divergent populations and to encourage restoration of traditional fishing practices. However, relative to EBK, the relevance of TEK to salmonid biodiversity conservation was evident mainly at a smaller spatial scale, for example, that of individual rivers occupied by populations or certain lake sectors. Nevertheless, EBK was only collected over a 4-yr period, so TEK provided an essential long-term temporal window to evaluate population differences and persistence. We concluded that, despite different conceptual underpinnings, spatially and temporally varying TEK and EBK both contribute to the knowledge base required to achieve sustainability and effective biodiversity conservation planning for a given species. Such integration may be particularly relevant in many isolated regions, where intraspecific diversity can go unrecognized due to sparse scientific knowledge or undocumented TEK, and where governmental agencies and local communities increasingly seek to find common ground on which to address biodiversity issues.

Key words

biodiversity; conservation; Cree; evolutionary biology; fish; James Bay; local ecological knowledge; migration; northern research; traditional ecological knowledge; traditional knowledge.
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087