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Genesis of an indigenous social-ecological landscape in eastern Panama

Divya Sharma, Department of Biology, McGill University
Gerardo Vergara-Asenjo, Department of Biology, McGill University; Instituto Forestal de Chile
Mitzy Cunampio, Community of Piriatí-Emberá, Panama
Raquel B Cunampio, Community of Piriatí-Emberá, Panama
Mara B Cunampio, Community of Piriatí-Emberá, Panama
Catherine Potvin, Department of Biology, McGill University; Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute


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Knowledge of the interplay between ecological and social influences in the context of land-use decision-making is sparse. To help fill this gap, we conducted participatory land-cover mapping in an indigenous territory of eastern Panama to identify factors that influenced household land-use decisions. The map illustrated a mosaic of land cover dominated by pasture. Primary discourse on influences from 35 semistructured interviews with landowners, women, and youth emphasized economic concerns, such as subsistence, and social-cultural factors, such as reticence to abandon traditional agriculture. Multivariate analysis showed that timing of family settlement helped determine proportion of forest cover, and place of origin helped determine proportion of short fallow for agriculture. Cultural norms and economic opportunities inform gendered perspectives; women perceived internal social-cultural influences and men perceived external and ecological influences on the land. Giving consideration to subsistence, traditional land uses, social organization, and women's perspectives could inform future communal reforestation.

Key words

eastern Panama; deforestation; forest cover; indigenous migration; land-cover mapping; land-use change; land-use decisions; livelihood strategies; local knowledge; reforestation; social-ecological landscape

Copyright © 2015 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