, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 569-583
Date: 03 Jun 2006

Redressing cultural erosion and ecological decline in a far North Queensland aboriginal community (Australia): the Aurukun ethnobiology database project

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Traditional environmental knowledge (usually imparted orally) is being lost from many regions of the world, requiring novel forms of transmission if this situation is to be redressed. Loss of this knowledge may be a significant contributory factor towards ecological decline. Undoubtedly, disruption to ecosystems and societies that depend on these has impacted on traditional land management practices, with negative ramifications for biodiversity. From an environmental perspective, scientists in northern Australia need to understand traditional Aboriginal methods of ‘caring for country’, such as burning regimes, so that these can be incorporated into strategies today for maintaining Australia’s rich biodiversity. However, information exchange should be two-way: as well as learning from local people, science can in turn benefit people who may have little experience of, for example, invasive species. The challenge is how can the complexity of biological knowledge from within different ontologies be represented and integrated in a way that it can be of use to scientists and local people, in order to ensure a sustainable future? The main aim of this study was to record existing local knowledge of biodiversity for the community of Aurukun (far north Queensland), integrating this knowledge with scientific data, while giving parity to both knowledge systems and protecting intellectual property rights. A cross-cultural collaboration between community members and ethnobiologists resulted in development of the Aurukun Ethnobiology Database. An interdisciplinary approach was taken to effectively model autochthonous biological knowledge and scientific data to create a database with a number of practical applications.