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Human–Nature Relationship in Mediterranean Streams: Integrating Different Types of Knowledge to Improve Water Management

Carla Gonzalez, CENSEŚCenter for Environmental and Sustainability Research, Ecological Economics and Environmental Management Group, Faculty of Sciences and Technology, New University of Lisbon; Environmental Biology Centre, Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon
Adelaide Clemente, Environmental Biology Centre, Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon
Kurt Aagaard Nielsen, Department of Environmental, Social and Spatial Change, University of Roskilde
Cristina Branquinho, Environmental Biology Centre, Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon
Rui Ferreira dos Santos, CENSEŚCenter for Environmental and Sustainability Research, Ecological Economics and Environmental Management Group, Faculty of Sciences and Technology, New University of Lisbon

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Abstract

The social and ecological systems of Mediterranean streams are intrinsically linked as a result of long human occupation. In this region, these links vary greatly across small distances due to geomorphology, resulting in great diversity across space, which poses particular challenges for understanding and managing these systems. This demands (i) interdisciplinary integration of knowledge that focuses on the social–ecological interactions, while according due consideration to the whole; and also (ii) transdisciplinary integration, integrating lay and expert knowledge to understand local specificities. To address these needs—a focus on interactions and local knowledge—the research presented here studies the human–nature relationship in Mediterranean streams. Its main objective is to improve understanding of Mediterranean streams, but it also provides practical inputs to enhance local-level management. The study adopts an applied approach from the perspective of natural resources management. A case study was developed conducting field work on streams within the Natura 2000 site of Monfurado, Portugal—a mainly privately owned area with conflicting land uses between conservation and farming. Rivers and streams in Portugal are considered to be in very bad condition, particularly with regard to water quality. The experimental design was based, from a critical realism perspective of inter- and trans-disciplinarity, on the complementarities between methodologies from (i) the social sciences: value survey and analysis of discourse; and (ii) the natural sciences: biomonitoring and integrity biotic indexes. Results characterized the connected systems from both ecological and social points of view. They also characterized the relationship between both dimensions. We concluded that well-established riparian vegetation cover of streams is a key structural element of the human–nature relationship in the Mediterranean streams of Monfurado at several levels. The central role this structure might have in the dialog between the conflicting land uses with regard to water management is discussed, and priority targets for management are identified. The tree stratum in streams may work as a conciliation factor in the conflict between farming and conservation, as it is in the interest of both sectors to maintain it; however, the shrub stratum is effectively a source of conflict between the two perspectives and needs further work at the social-change level.

Key words

co-evolution; ecological indicators; interdisciplinary; local knowledge; natural resource management; Portugal; social–ecological systems; transdisciplinary
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087