Human Ecology

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 479-494

Knowledge, Learning and the Evolution of Conservation Practice for Social-Ecological System Resilience

  • Fikret BerkesAffiliated withNatural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba
  • , Nancy J. TurnerAffiliated withSchool of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria

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There are two broadly conceptualized ways in which conservation knowledge may evolve: the depletion crisis model and the ecological understanding model. The first one argues that developing conservation thought and practice depends on learning that resources are depletable. Such learning typically follows a resource crisis. The second mechanism emphasizes the development of conservation practices following the incremental elaboration of environmental knowledge by a group of people. These mechanisms may work together. Following a perturbation, a society can self-organize, learn and adapt. The self-organizing process, facilitated by knowledge development and learning, has the potential to increase the resilience (capability to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change) of resource use systems. Hence, conservation knowledge can develop through a combination of long-term ecological understanding and learning from crises and mistakes. It has survival value, as it increases the resilience of integrated social--ecological systems to deal with change in ways that continue to sustain both peoples and their environments.

Key Words

resource management conservation indigenous knowledge traditional ecological knowledge resilience adaptive learning common property institutions