Ethnoecology is the interdisciplinary study of dynamic relationships among peoples, biota, and environments. Ethnoecological studies are based on a multidisciplinary perspective that draws on the insights from the natural and behavioural sciences at multiple levels- from the views of villagers in developing nations to those of policy-makers in industrial nations. Ethnoecological studies might help us understand today's social and environmental problems (e.g. ecological degradation, climate change, loss of biological and cultural diversity, water scarcity, economic inequalities, and demographic transitions).

The Etnoecology Laboratory aims at promoting the development of ethnoecology in Europe. The Laboratory is based at the Institute for Environmental Sciences and Technology (ICTA) at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB) and has various training and research sites.

The specific objectives of Ethnoecology Laboratory are:

·     To increase the academic offer of ethnoecology in Europe

·     To act as a catalyst for ethnoecology research in environmental sciences

·     To encourage interdisciplinary research in environmental sciences

·     To organize an Ethnoecology Network

·     To offer training in collecting primary data through field methods courses and the possibility to participate in ongoing research projects.

Current research lines 

Local Environmental Knowledge


Through this line of research, we have 1) tested hypotheses about the correlates of local environmental knowledge; and 2) addressed the evolutionary nature of local environmental knowledge. We have showed that indigenous groups hold ethnobotanical knowledge in common. We have also studied how market exposure affects the distribution of local environmental knowledge, finding that only economic activities that take people out of their cultural context are negatively associated with their local knowledge. More recently, we have taken an important first step in assessing the benefits of individual levels of local knowledge on measurable outcomes, finding that individual ethnobotanical knowledge is associated with effective habitat management and own nutritional status and children’s health. In our most recent work, we address the evolutionary nature of local environmental knowledge and its role in building resilience in resource management systems.


Cultural Change among Indigenous Peoples

As market economies expand, the culture, lifestyle, and habitat of indigenous people changes, often in predictable and sometimes in irreversible ways. Yet we lack rigorously quantitative and longitudinal research on the topic. To fill that gap, during more than a decade, researchers from the Ethnoecology Lab have collaborated with the Tsimane’ Amazonian Panel Study (TAPS). TAPS aims to assess the effects of trade opening or market exposure on well-being and on the use of natural resources in a native Amazonian society in Bolivia. It does so by conducting a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary, long-term program of research, training, and development. Research draws on an eclectic mix of theories and insights from economics, evolutionary biology, and cultural anthropology.We are currently undertaking research on how indigenous peoples perceive concepts such as health and wellbeing.


Emerging Conservation Tools

The last decade has witnessed the development of payments for ecosystem services and environmental offset mechanisms as new economic instruments to promote conservation across the world. In many instances, indigenous peoples have got involved in the design, implementation or contestation of these instruments. Researchers from the Ethnoecology Lab have analysed the potential benefits and costs that some pilot experiences with carbon offsets have had on indigenous and non-indigenous groups of rural Mexico, including better resource management, political empowerment but also increased income inequality and gender blindness toward resource use. Ongoing work is testing the influence of economic incentives in local resource governance and conservation attitudes and behavior among indigenous and non-indigenous groups, as well as drawing insights on how to best design -if possible- these instruments to work locally and legitimately for heterogeneous communities that live in biologically rich forests and landscapes.


Indigenous Peoples and Community Conserved Areas

In specific cultural and ecological contexts, Indigenous Peoples and Community Conserved Areas (hereafter ICCAs) are positively associated with the well-being of local communities and the maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity and ecosystem services. However, such management arrangements -and the associated biocultural diversity- are being eroded due to an increased interconnection of cultures and ecosystems partly driven by economic globalization. Additionally there is a lack of recognition of these ICCAs by local and national governments. Researchers from the Ethnoecology Laboratory study different forms of ICCAs developed by indigenous peoples and rural populations living in areas of high biodiversity. We are also analyzing the role of community-based conservation in fostering or undermining socio-ecological resilience. In theory, community-based conservation can contribute to maintaining biological diversity and ensuring rural and indigenous peoples’ ability to benefit from natural resources and to anticipate and adapt to socio-ecological change, but this may not always be the case. 


Global Environmental Change and small-scale societies 

The definition of a new geological era, the Anthropocene, has recently been proposed to mark a period of environmental change at a global scale. In this process of Global Environmental Change, the study of small-scale societies is increasingly used to shed a light on the co-evolutionary dynamics of ecosystems and society. Findings from different researches from the Ethnoecology Laboratory confirm the hypotheses pointing at the critical importance of TEK on providing insights to society regarding the design of adaptation and mitigation strategies to cope with Global Environmental Change. Ongoing work draws on the links between perceived externally-driven Global Environmental Change and self-induced local changes, the resilient nature of TEK in the face of global change, intra-cultural variation on the perceptions of climate and global change of indigenous societies, as well as the value of local systems for monitoring and understanding environmental changes.


Plants and People 

Researchers from the Ethnoecology Lab address the interactions between the economic, cultural, and practical values of wild and cultivated plants for different cultural groups. As well, we link ecological characteristics of plants and plant diversity to different socio-economical aspects. In recent work with home garden tenders in the Iberian Peninsula, we found that although vegetable home gardens in rural areas of industriazlied nations provide non-negligible financial benefits, this only partially explain why people continue to cultivate home gardens. Among the Tsimane' Amerindians, we have found that tree diversity relates to cultural change, probably through the modification of their body of practices linked to their home ecosystem (the forest). We also found that tree ecological importance relate to patterns of uses in the same forests. We are interested in knowing if these relations change in a cross-cultural perspective. How indigenous people modify their surrounding environments and contribute to the formation of a continuum between "wild" and "managed" ecosystems is one of our current interests.

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