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Knowledge coproduction improves understanding of environmental change in the Ethiopian highlands

Cara Steger, Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA; Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA
Girma Nigussie, Amhara Agricultural Research Institute, Sekota Dry Land Agricultural Research Center, Ethiopia
Michael Alonzo, Department of Environmental Science, American University, Washington, D.C., USA
Bikila Warkineh, Department of Plant Biology and Biodiversity Management, College of Natural and Computational Sciences, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
Jamon Van Den Hoek, Geography Program, College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA.
Mekbib Fekadu, Department of Geography, Phillips University of Marburg, Germany; Department of Plant Biology and Biodiversity Management, College of Natural and Computational Sciences, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
Paul H. Evangelista, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA
Julia A. Klein, Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA; Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA; Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-11325-250202

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Abstract

Knowledge coproduction that draws on local and scientific knowledge presents opportunities for more holistic understanding of environmental change. We describe our use of a multiple-evidence based approach to investigate the causes and consequences of environmental change in a community-protected grassland and its surrounding landscape in the Ethiopian highlands. We explore the interaction of biophysical change (precipitation and vegetation) and social change (political and management institutions), and discuss potential impacts for ecosystem service provisioning. We quantified current distributions of locally defined land use/cover classes using a supervised classification, with an overall accuracy of 87.1%. Local community members then described and ranked the ecosystem services associated with each land class according to their perceived importance for society. Vegetation and precipitation changes were assessed using satellite time series beginning in the early 1980s, while local narratives describe changes back to the 1970s. The knowledge coproduction process brought together ethnographic and remote sensing approaches, revealing both complementary and contradictory findings across knowledge systems. Results with high agreement across knowledge systems clarify and reinforce understanding of certain threats and changes to the area, such as the rapidly declining native forests, the disappearing belg rainy season (p = 0.01), and the impact of insecure land tenure on natural resource extraction. Compelling areas of disagreement point to topics in need of further investigation, including increased attention to the spatial and temporal variability of change across a seemingly homogeneous cultural landscape, and the process of shrub encroachment into the protected grassland.

Key words

ecosystem services; ethnographic methods; land use land cover change; remote sensing time series; transdisciplinary research

Copyright © 2020 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087