Indigenous ecological calendars define scales for climate change and sustainability assessments

Abstract

Identifying appropriate temporal and spatial boundaries for assessments of human–environment systems continues to be a challenge in sustainability science. The livelihood of Indigenous peoples in the northwestern Brazilian Amazon are characterized by complex ecological management systems entwined with sociocultural practices and sophisticated astronomical and ecological calendars. Sustainability of fisheries and bitter manioc production, key elements of food systems and economic activities in this region, depend on cyclic high river levels for fish spawning as well as periods of dry days for preparation of agricultural fields. Since 2005, participatory research has been underway between Indigenous communities of the Tiquié River and the Brazilian Socio-environmental Institute (ISA). Indigenous agents of environmental management (AIMAs) keep notebooks of ethno-astronomical, ecological, and socio-economic observations of the annual cycles, and some of them have reported that river levels and dry periods have become more irregular in some years. To investigate how these possible climatic changes may impact the sustainability of resources, we share knowledge from the Tukano ecological calendar with methodology for examining changes in precipitation and river levels and their interactions at multiple timescales. Our collaboration indicates that high spatial and temporal variability in precipitation patterns and river levels may complicate climate change and sustainability analyses. However, combining results from participatory research with novel methods for climate analysis helps identify a 4-day trend in precipitation that may impact agroecosystem management. Indigenous participation in systematic data collection and interpretation of results is essential for distinguishing between socio-economic and climate forcings and evaluating climate impacts. Continued efforts to bridge Indigenous and Western knowledge systems are vital for sustainable environmental management in Indigenous territories and other regions where traditional management may be challenged in the context of global climate change.

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Acknowledgments

Funding for participatory research was provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Instituto Arapyaú, Projeto Demonstrativo de Povos Indígenas (PDPI) do Ministério do Meio Ambiente, and Rainforest Foundation Norway. We gratefully acknowledge the work of the 15 AIMAs of the Tiquié who recorded their observations during 2005–2008, particularly the team coordinators Evaristo Azevedo, Rogelino Alves Azevedo, and Roberval Araújo Pedrosa. We also appreciate the long-time work of ISA and the Programa Rio Negro Socioambiental researchers, specifically Aloisio Cabalzar and Pieter-Jan van der Veld, along with colleagues Walmir Thomazi Cardoso and Melissa Oliveira. F.V. Cochran additionally thanks the Bohnstengl Endowment Fund and the IGERT C-CHANGE NSF080152 program for funding and interdisciplinary training. This paper is dedicated to Jean-Pierre Vuillomenet (1937–2014), an aficionado and resident of the Upper Rio Negro since 1968.

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Correspondence to Ferdouz V. Cochran.

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Handled by Andrew Kliskey, University of Idaho, USA.

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Cochran, F.V., Brunsell, N.A., Cabalzar, A. et al. Indigenous ecological calendars define scales for climate change and sustainability assessments. Sustain Sci 11, 69–89 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-015-0303-y

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Keywords

  • Northwest Amazon
  • Tukanoan Indigenous peoples
  • Ecological calendar
  • Climate services
  • Temporal scales
  • Knowledge coexistence