, Volume 1, Issue 5, pp 409–415

Minireviews: Exploring the Basic Ecological Unit: Ecosystem-like Concepts in Traditional Societies

  • Fikret  Berkes
  • Mina  Kislalioglu
  • Carl  Folke
  • Madhav  Gadgil

DOI: 10.1007/s100219900034

Cite this article as:
Berkes, F., Kislalioglu, M., Folke, C. et al. Ecosystems (1998) 1: 409. doi:10.1007/s100219900034


Ancient conceptualizations of ecosystems exist in several Amerindian, Asia-Pacific, European, and African cultures. The rediscovery by scientists of ecosystem-like concepts among traditional peoples has been important in the appreciation of traditional ecological knowledge among ecologists, anthropologists, and interdisciplinary scholars. Two key characteristics of these systems are that (a) the unit of nature is often defined in terms of a geographical boundary, such as a watershed, and (b) abiotic components, plants, animals, and humans within this unit are considered to be interlinked. Many traditional ecological knowledge systems are compatible with the emerging view of ecosystems as unpredictable and uncontrollable, and of ecosystem processes as nonlinear, multiequilibrium, and full of surprises. Traditional knowledge may complement scientific knowledge by providing practical experience in living within ecosystems and responding to ecosystem change. However, the “language” of traditional ecology is different from the scientific and usually includes metaphorical imagery and spiritual expression, signifying differences in context, motive, and conceptual underpinnings.

Key words: traditional ecological knowledge; human ecology; ecological anthropology; ecosystem; watershed. 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fikret  Berkes
    • 1
  • Mina  Kislalioglu
  • Carl  Folke
    • 2
  • Madhav  Gadgil
    • 3
  1. 1.Natural Resources InstituteCA
  2. 2.Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University, S-10691 Stockholm, and Beijer International Institute of Ecological Economics, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Box 50005, S-10405 Stockholm, Sweden SE
  3. 3.Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore 560012, India IN

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