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Perception matters: an Indigenous perspective on climate change and its effects on forest-based livelihoods in the Amazon

Tina N. Bauer, Wageningen University and Research, Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group
Wil de Jong, Kyoto University, Center for Southeast Asian and Integrated Area Studies
Verina Ingram, Wageningen University and Research, Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group


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Indigenous and subsistence-oriented people are particularly sensitive to the impacts of climate change. Strategies to cope and adapt to those changes may rely on traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), which can play an important role for understanding global environmental change at the local level. We aim to provide insights regarding perceptions of climate change, traditional ecological knowledge, and the coping strategies forest-dependent Indigenous people in the Amazon adopt when faced with climate change impacts. The outcomes are based on a mixed set of methods: comprising semi-structured interviews, meteorological data, and photovoice in a case study approach of 49 households of the Indigenous Territory TCO Tacana I in lowland Bolivia. Data were collected in 2013 and 2015; meanwhile, the study area was hit by a severe extreme weather precipitation event and resulting flood in 2014. The results demonstrate that Tacana’s perception of weather trends and those of Western science-trained specialists complement each other because they provide different sets of details. The study revealed 38 traditional weather-related short-term indicators that underline the close interaction of Tacana with the environment. However, their current reliability has been questioned, indicating a need for further observation and research for potential long-term environmental change. Photovoice outcomes suggest that most of the negative effects during the extreme weather event were reported on natural capital in subsistence farming households. Indigenous households relied more on strong bonding and networking social capital (intracommunal and external), less on other capitals to cope with the flood event. Acknowledging TEK insights and changing local ecological indicators contributes information to assist sustainable ecosystem management and build corresponding resilient social systems. Local knowledge can support the understanding of climate and environmental change and local and regional risk management planning, interventions, and policy recommendations. This can considerably enhance the effectiveness and robustness of such strategies while counteracting the loss of traditional ecological knowledge.

Key words

forest communities; coping; methodology; social-ecological system; traditional ecological knowledge

Copyright © 2022 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087