Human Ecology

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 439-461

First online:

Living on the Edge: Ecological and Cultural Edges as Sources of Diversity for Social—Ecological Resilience

  • Nancy J. TurnerAffiliated withSchool of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria Email author 
  • , Iain J. Davidson-HuntAffiliated withNatural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba
  • , Michael O'FlahertyAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, University of Toronto

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A well-known facet of ecosystems is that the edges—the boundaries or transitions from one ecosystem to another—often exhibit high levels of species richness or biodiversity. These transitional areas often show features of species composition, structure, and function representative of the ecosystems they transcend, as well as having their own unique array of species and characteristics. Cultural transitional areas—zones where two or more cultures converge and interact—are similarly rich and diverse in cultural traits, exhibiting cultural and linguistic features of each of the contributing peoples. This results in an increase in cultural capital, and resilience, by providing a wider range of traditional ecological knowledge and wisdom on which to draw, especially in times of stress and change. We propose that indigenous peoples whose living territories traverse ecological edges have a correspondingly increased access to economically important resources and therefore have a greater capacity for flexibility. Finally, we suggest that indigenous peoples are drawn to areas having a high incidence of ecological edges, and furthermore, that they actively create and maintain ecological edges. This practice provides them with a greater diversity of cultural capital and helps to maintain their flexibility and resilience. Examples from several regions of Canada are provided, from the southern interior of British Columbia, to the Lake Winnipeg watershed of Manitoba and Ontario, to James Bay.

cultural diversity biodiversity resilience traditional ecological knowledge indigenous peoples