Sustainability Science

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 611–623 | Cite as

Local ecological knowledge and incremental adaptation to changing flood patterns in the Amazon delta

  • Nathan Vogt
  • Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez
  • Eduardo S. Brondízio
  • Fernando G. Rabelo
  • Katia Fernandes
  • Oriana Almeida
  • Sergio Riveiro
  • Peter J. Deadman
  • Yue Dou
Special Feature: Original Article Sustainable Deltas: Livelihoods, Ecosystem Services, and Policy Implications
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Special Feature: Sustainable Deltas: Livelihoods, Ecosystem Services, and Policy Implications


The need for understanding the factors that trigger human responses to climate change has opened inquiries on the role of indigenous and local ecological knowledge (ILK) in facilitating or constraining social adaptation processes. Answers to the question of how ILK is helping or limiting smallholders to cope with increasing disturbances to the local hydro-climatic regime remain very limited in adaptation and mitigation studies and interventions. Herein, we discuss a case study on ILK as a resource used by expert farmer-fishers (locally known as Caboclos) to cope with the increasing threats on their livelihoods and environments generated by changing flood patterns in the Amazon delta region. While expert farmer-fishers are increasingly exposed to shocks and stresses, their ILK plays a key role in mitigating impacts and in strengthening their adaptive responses that are leading to a process of incremental adaptation (PIA). We argue that ILK is the most valuable resource used by expert farmer-fishers to adapt the spatial configuration and composition of their land-/resource-use systems (agrodiversity) and their produced and managed resources (agrobiodiversity) at landscape, community and household levels. We based our findings on ILK on data recorded for over the last 30 years using detailed ethnographic methodologies and multitemporal landscape mapping. We found that the ILK of expert farmer-fishers and their “tradition of change” have facilitated the PIA to intensify a particular production system to optimize production across a broad range of flood conditions and at the same time to manage or conserve forests to produce resources and services.


Indigenous and local knowledge Resilience Adaptation Amazon delta Sustainability Multifunctional landscapes 



This paper is based on work supported by the International Development and Research Center of Canada, for the project Socio-Cultural Adaptations of Caboclos in the Amazon Estuary of Brazil to Extreme Tidal Events, the National Science Foundation for the project Global Markets, Regional Landscapes, and Household Decisions: Modeling the History of Transformation of the Amazon Estuary [Award: 0527578] and the project Deltas: Catalyzing Action Towards Sustainability of Deltaic Systems with an Integrated Modeling Framework for Risk Assessment [Award: 1342898]. We received indispensable aid from many institutions and individuals in Brazil. We particularly would like to thank our sponsors in Brazil, the Núcleo de Altos Estudos Amazônicos of the Universidade Federal do Pará. Eduardo Brondízio would like to thank the support of Indiana University and of the Institut d’etudes avances-Paris. Nathan Vogt would like to thank the National Institute for Space Research and the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) for their support. Much of the field data presented were gathered with the help of our long-term skilled field researchers; among them, we would like to especially acknowledge the work of Andrea Siqueira, Valois Delcastagne, Socorro Tavares and Marcio Matos in Brazil. Finally, our greatest debts are owed to the many rural and urban families who have kindly shared their ideas and information with us over many years in Ponta de Pedras, Mazagão, Abaetatuba and Ipixuna Miranda in Brazil.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nathan Vogt
    • 1
  • Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez
    • 2
  • Eduardo S. Brondízio
    • 3
  • Fernando G. Rabelo
    • 4
  • Katia Fernandes
    • 5
  • Oriana Almeida
    • 6
  • Sergio Riveiro
    • 6
  • Peter J. Deadman
    • 7
  • Yue Dou
    • 7
  1. 1.Núcleo de Altos Estudos Amazônicos (NAEA), Federal University of Pará and Geography and Regional PlanningUniversity of Valley Paraíba – BrazilBelémBrazil
  2. 2.Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability (EICES)Columbia UniversityNYUSA
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  4. 4.Forestry DepartmentState University of AmapáMacapá, APBrazil
  5. 5.International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI)Columbia UniversityNYUSA
  6. 6.Núcleo de Altos Estudos Amazônicos (NAEA)University Federal of Pará – BrazilBelémBrazil
  7. 7.Geography and Environmental ManagementUniversity of Waterloo WaterlooCanada

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