, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 48–60 | Cite as

Shepherds’ local knowledge and scientific data on the scavenging ecosystem service: Insights for conservation

  • Zebensui Morales-ReyesEmail author
  • Berta Martín-López
  • Marcos Moleón
  • Patricia Mateo-Tomás
  • Pedro P. Olea
  • Eneko Arrondo
  • José A. Donázar
  • José A. Sánchez-Zapata
Research Article


Integrating indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) and scientific knowledge (SK) in the evaluation of ecosystem services has been recommended by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. We examined the similarities and contradictions between shepherds’ ILK and SK on the scavenging service provided by vertebrates in Spain. We conducted 73 face-to-face surveys with shepherds to evaluate their ILK. We collected scientific information on 20 scavenger species by monitoring the consumption of 45 livestock carcasses with camera traps. We found a high consistency between ILK and SK regarding the provision of the scavenging service by vertebrates, which was also consistent over the range of shepherd ages and experience. Our findings support the importance of ILK held by shepherds to better understand and to collect information on the scavenging service, particularly at the species level. The integration of ILK and SK into the management strategies of scavengers can benefit the conservation of globally endangered scavengers and the ecosystem services they provide.


Camera trapping Carrion Experience Extensive livestock farming systems Traditional ecological knowledge Vultures 



We are grateful to all shepherds, for their invaluable contributions to this work. I. Pérez helped during the questionnaire design and R. Pascual-Rico during the fieldwork. The study was partly supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and ERDF (Projects CGL2012-40013-C02-02 and CGL2015-66966-C2-1-R) and by the Excellence Project (RNM-1925, Junta de Andalucía). ZMR was supported by a pre-doctoral Grant (FPU12/00823) and a mobility Grant (EST15/00741), MM by a Severo Ochoa Program for Centres of Excellence in R+D+I (SEV-2012-0262) and by a research contract Ramón y Cajal from the MINECO (RYC-2015-19231), PMT by a Portuguese FCT Grant (SFRH/BPD/112437/2015), and EA by La Caixa-Severo Ochoa International Ph.D. Program 2015. Comments from one anonymous reviewer improved the original manuscript.

Supplementary material

13280_2018_1055_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (774 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 774 kb)


  1. Anadón, J.D., A. Giménez, R. Ballestar, and I. Pérez. 2009. Evaluation of local ecological knowledge as a method for collecting extensive data on animal abundance. Conservation Biology 23: 617–625. Scholar
  2. Arrondo, E., M. Moleón, A. Cortés-Avizanda, J. Jiménez, P. Beja, J.A. Sánchez-Zapata, and J.A. Donázar. 2018. Invisible barriers: Differential sanitary regulations constrain vulture movements across country borders. Biological Conservation 219: 46–52. Scholar
  3. Aswani, S., and M. Lauer. 2014. Indigenous people’s detection of rapid ecological change. Conservation Biology 28: 820–828. Scholar
  4. Ban, N.C., M. Mills, J. Tam, C.C. Hicks, S. Klain, N. Stoeckl, M.C. Bottrill, J. Levine, et al. 2013. A social-ecological approach to conservation planning: Embedding social considerations. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11: 194–202. Scholar
  5. Beasley, J.C., Z.H. Olson, and T.L. DeVault. 2015. Ecological role of vertebrate scavengers. In Carrion ecology, evolution and their applications, ed. M. Benbow, J. Tomberlin, and A. Tarone, 107–127. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bender, M.G., G.R. Machado, P.J. de Azevedo Silva, S.R. Floeter, C. Monteiro-Netto, O.J. Luiz, and C.E.L. Ferreira. 2014. Local ecological knowledge and scientific data reveal overexploitation by multigear artisanal fisheries in the Southwestern Atlantic. PLoS ONE 9: e110332. Scholar
  7. Bennett, N.J., R. Roth, S.C. Klain, K.M.A. Chan, D.A. Clark, G. Cullman, G. Epstein, M.P. Nelson, et al. 2017. Mainstreaming the social sciences in conservation. Conservation Biology 31: 56–66. Scholar
  8. Berkes, F. 2004. Rethinking community-based conservation. Conservation Biology 18: 621–630. Scholar
  9. Buechley, E.R., and Ç.H. Şekercioğlu. 2016. The avian scavenger crisis: Looming extinctions, trophic cascades, and loss of critical ecosystem functions. Biological Conservation 198: 220–228. Scholar
  10. Chapron, G., P. Kaczensky, J.D.C. Linnell, M. von Arx, D. Huber, H. Andrén, J.V. López-Bao, M. Adamec, et al. 2014. Recovery of large carnivores in Europe’s modern human-dominated landscapes. Science 346: 1517–1519. Scholar
  11. Cortés-Avizanda, A., B. Martín-López, O. Ceballos, and H.M. Pereira. 2018. Stakeholders perceptions of the endangered Egyptian vulture: Insights for conservation. Biological Conservation 218: 173–180. Scholar
  12. Cramp, S., and K.E.L. Simmons. 1980. The birds of the Western Palearctic, vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Danielsen, F., K. Pirhofer-Walzl, T.P. Adrian, D.R. Kapijimpanga, N.D. Burgess, P.M. Jensen, R. Bonney, M. Funder, et al. 2014. Linking Public Participation in Scientific Research to the Indicators and Needs of International Environmental Agreements. Conservation Letters 7: 12–24. Scholar
  14. Daw, T.M. 2010. Shifting baselines and memory illusions: what should we worry about when inferring trends from resource user interviews? Animal Conservation 13: 534–535. Scholar
  15. del Moral, J.C. (ed.). 2009. El buitre leonado en España. Población reproductora en 2008 y método de censo. Madrid: SEO/BirdLife.Google Scholar
  16. DeVault, T.L., J.C. Beasley, Z.H. Olson, M. Moleón, M. Carrete, A. Margalida, and J.A. Sánchez-Zapata. 2016. Ecosystem services provided by avian scavengers. In Why birds matter. Avian ecological function and ecosystem services, ed. C.H. Şekercioglu, D.G. Wenny, and C.J. Whelan, 235–270. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  17. Díaz, S., S. Demissew, J. Carabias, C. Joly, M. Lonsdale, N. Ash, A. Larigauderie, J.R. Adhikari, et al. 2015. The IPBES conceptual framework—connecting nature and people. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 14: 1–16. Scholar
  18. Donázar, J.A., A. Margalida, and D. Campión (eds.). 2009. Vultures, feeding stations and sanitary legislation: A conflict and its consequences from the perspective of conservation biology. San Sebastián: Sociedad de Ciencias Aranzadi.Google Scholar
  19. Estes, J.A., J. Terborgh, J.S. Brashares, M.E. Power, J. Berger, W.J. Bond, S.R. Carpenter, T.E. Essington, et al. 2011. Trophic downgrading of planet Earth. Science 333: 301–306. Scholar
  20. Fernández-Llamazares, Á., R.A. Garcia, I. Díaz-Reviriego, M. Cabeza, A. Pyhälä, and V. Reyes-García. 2017. An empirically tested overlap between indigenous and scientific knowledge of a changing climate in Bolivian Amazonia. Regional Environmental Change 17: 1673–1685. Scholar
  21. Firn, J., E. Ladouceur, and J. Dorrough. 2018. Integrating local knowledge and research to refine the management of an invasive non-native grass in critically endangered grassy woodlands. Journal of Applied Ecology 55: 321–330. Scholar
  22. Frans, V.F., and A.A. Augé. 2016. Use of local ecological knowledge to investigate endangered baleen whale recovery in the Falkland Islands. Biological Conservation 202: 127–137. Scholar
  23. Gómez-Baggethun, E., S. Mingorria, V. Reyes-García, L. Calvet, and C. Montes. 2010. Traditional ecological knowledge trends in the transition to a market economy: Empirical study in the Doñana natural areas. Conservation Biology 24: 721–729. Scholar
  24. Green, R.E., J.A. Donázar, J.A. Sánchez-Zapata, and A. Margalida. 2016. Potential threat to Eurasian griffon vultures in Spain from veterinary use of the drug diclofenac. Journal of Applied Ecology 53: 993–1003. Scholar
  25. Hernández-Morcillo, M., J. Hoberg, E. Oteros-Rozas, T. Plieninger, E. Gómez-Baggethun, and V. Reyes-García. 2014. Traditional ecological knowledge in Europe: Status quo and insights for the environmental policy agenda. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 56: 3–17. Scholar
  26. Iniesta-Arandia, I., D.G. del Amo, A.P. García-Nieto, C. Piñeiro, C. Montes, and B. Martín-López. 2015. Factors influencing local ecological knowledge maintenance in Mediterranean watersheds: Insights for environmental policies. Ambio 44: 285–296. Scholar
  27. Iphofen, R. 2013. Research ethics in ethnography/anthropology. Brussels: European Commission.Google Scholar
  28. Knapp, C.N., J. Cochran, F.S. Chapin III, G. Kofinas, and N. Sayre. 2013. Putting local knowledge and context to work for Gunnison sage-grouse conservation. Human-Wildlife Interactions 7: 195–213.Google Scholar
  29. Luczaj, L., A. Pieroni, J. Tardío, M. Pardo-de-Santayana, R. Sõukand, I. Svanberg, and R. Kalle. 2012. Wild food plant use in 21st century Europe, the disappearance of old traditions and the search for new cuisines involving wild edibles. Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae 81: 359–370. Scholar
  30. MA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment). 2005. Ecosystems and human well-being: biodiversity synthesis. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.Google Scholar
  31. Margalida, A., J.A. Donázar, M. Carrete, and J.A. Sánchez-Zapata. 2010. Sanitary versus environmental policies: Fitting together two pieces of the puzzle of European vulture conservation. Journal of Applied Ecology 47: 931–935. Scholar
  32. Margalida, A., D. Campión, and J.A. Donázar. 2011. Scavenger turned predator: European vultures’ altered behaviour. Nature 480: 457. Scholar
  33. Margalida, A., J.A. Sánchez-Zapata, G. Blanco, F. Hiraldo, and J.A. Donázar. 2014. Diclofenac approval as a threat to Spanish vultures. Conservation Biology 28: 631–632. Scholar
  34. Martín-López, B., and C. Montes. 2015. Restoring the human capacity for conserving biodiversity: A social–ecological approach. Sustainability Science 10: 699–706. Scholar
  35. Mateo-Tomás, P., and P.P. Olea. 2011. The importance of social information in breeding site selection increases with population size in the Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus. Ibis 153: 832–845. Scholar
  36. Mateo-Tomás, P., P.P. Olea, I.S. Sánchez-Barbudo, and R. Mateo. 2012. Alleviating human-wildlife conflicts: Identifying the causes and mapping the risk of illegal poisoning of wild fauna. Journal of Applied Ecology 49: 376–385. Scholar
  37. Mateo-Tomás, P., P.P. Olea, M. Moleón, J. Vicente, F. Botella, N. Selva, J. Viñuela, and J.A. Sánchez-Zapata. 2015. From regional to global patterns in vertebrate scavenger communities subsidized by big game hunting. Diversity and Distributions 21: 913–924. Scholar
  38. Mateo-Tomás, P., P.P. Olea, M. Moleón, N. Selva, and J.A. Sánchez-Zapata. 2017. Both rare and common species support ecosystem services in scavenger communities. Global Ecology and Biogeography 26: 1459–1470. Scholar
  39. Moleón, M., J.A. Sánchez-Zapata, A. Margalida, M. Carrete, N. Owen-Smith, and J.A. Donázar. 2014. Humans and scavengers: The evolution of interactions and ecosystem services. BioScience 64: 394–403. Scholar
  40. Moleón, M., J.A. Sánchez-Zapata, E. Sebastián-González, and N. Owen-Smith. 2015. Carcass size shapes the structure and functioning of an African scavenging assemblage. Oikos 124: 1391–1403. Scholar
  41. Molnár, Z., and F. Berkes. 2018. Role of traditional ecological knowledge in linking cultural and natural capital in cultural landscapes. In Reconnecting natural and cultural capital, ed. M.L. Paracchini, P.C. Zingari, and C. Blasi, 183–194. Luxemburg: Publications Office of the European Union.Google Scholar
  42. Morales-Reyes, Z., B. Martín-López, M. Moleón, P. Mateo-Tomás, F. Botella, A. Margalida, J.A. Donázar, G. Blanco, et al. 2018. Farmer perceptions of the ecosystem services provided by scavengers: What, who and to whom. Conservation Letters 11: e12392. Scholar
  43. Ogada, D.L., F. Keesing, and M.Z. Virani. 2012. Dropping dead: causes and consequences of vulture population declines worldwide. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1249: 57–71. Scholar
  44. Olea, P.P., and P. Mateo-Tomás. 2009. The role of traditional farming practices in ecosystem conservation: The case of transhumance and vultures. Biological Conservation 142: 1844–1853. Scholar
  45. Oteros-Rozas, E., R. Ontillera-Sánchez, P. Sanosa, E. Gómez-Baggethun, V. Reyes-García, and J.A. González. 2013. Traditional ecological knowledge among transhumant pastoralists in Mediterranean Spain. Ecology and Society 18: 33. Scholar
  46. Pan, Y., G. Wei, A.A. Cunningham, S. Li, S. Chen, E.J. Milner-Gulland, and S.T. Turvey. 2016. Using local ecological knowledge to assess the status of the Critically Endangered Chinese giant salamander Andrias davidianus in Guizhou Province, China. Oryx 50: 257–264. Scholar
  47. Parry, L., and C.A. Peres. 2015. Evaluating the use of local ecological knowledge to monitor hunted tropical-forest wildlife over large spatial scales. Ecology and Society 20: 15. Scholar
  48. Prado, H.M., R.S.S. Murrieta, C. Adams, and E.S. Brondizio. 2014. Local and scientific knowledge for assessing the use of fallows and mature forest by large mammals in SE Brazil: Identifying singularities in folkecology. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 10: 7. Scholar
  49. R Core Team. 2016. R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing.Google Scholar
  50. Roué, M., and Z. Molnár (eds.). 2016. Knowing our lands and resources: Indigenous and local knowledge of biodiversity and ecosystem services in Europe and Central Asia. Knowledges of nature 9. Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  51. Selva, N., B. Jędrzejewska, W. Jędrzejewski, and A. Wajrak. 2005. Factors affecting carcass use by a guild of scavengers in European temperate woodland. Canadian Journal of Zoology 83: 1590–1601. Scholar
  52. Selva, N., B. Jedrzejewska, W. Jedrzejewski, and A. Wajrak. 2003. Scavenging on European bison carcasses in Bialowieza Primeval Forest (eastern Poland). Écoscience 10: 303–311. Scholar
  53. Sop, T.K., and J. Oldeland. 2013. Local perceptions of woody vegetation dynamics in the context of a “greening sahel”: A case study from burkina faso. Land Degradation & Development 24: 511–527. Scholar
  54. Stara, K., L. Sidiropoulos, and R. Tsiakiris. 2016. Bound eagles, evil vultures and cuckoo horses. Preserving the bio-cultural diversity of carrion eating birds. Human Ecology 44: 751–764. Scholar
  55. Tengö, M., E.S. Brondizio, T. Elmqvist, P. Malmer, and M. Spierenburg. 2014. Connecting diverse knowledge systems for enhanced ecosystem governance: The multiple evidence base approach. Ambio 43: 579–591. Scholar
  56. Tengö, M., R. Hill, P. Malmer, C.M. Raymond, M. Spierenburg, F. Danielsen, T. Elmqvist, and C. Folke. 2017. Weaving knowledge systems in IPBES, CBD and beyond—lessons learned for sustainability. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 26–27: 17–25. Scholar
  57. Turner, N.J., and K.L. Turner. 2008. “Where our women used to get the food”: Cumulative effects and loss of ethnobotanical knowledge and practice; case study from coastal British Columbia. Botany 86: 103–115. Scholar
  58. Varga, A., A. Heim, D. László, and Z. Molnár. 2016. Rangers bridge the gap: Integration of traditional ecological knowledge related to wood pastures into nature conservation. In Knowing our lands and resources: Indigenous and local knowledge of biodiversity and ecosystem services in Europe and Central Asia, ed. M., Roué and Z. Molnár, 78–91. Knowledges of nature 9. Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  59. Wilson, E.E., and E.M. Wolkovich. 2011. Scavenging: How carnivores and carrion structure communities. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 26: 129–135. Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zebensui Morales-Reyes
    • 1
    Email author
  • Berta Martín-López
    • 2
  • Marcos Moleón
    • 3
    • 4
  • Patricia Mateo-Tomás
    • 5
  • Pedro P. Olea
    • 6
  • Eneko Arrondo
    • 3
  • José A. Donázar
    • 3
  • José A. Sánchez-Zapata
    • 1
  1. 1.Departamento de Biología AplicadaUniversidad Miguel HernándezAlicanteSpain
  2. 2.Faculty of Sustainability, Institute for Ethics and Transdisciplinary Sustainability ResearchLeuphana University of LüneburgLüneburgGermany
  3. 3.Department of Conservation BiologyDoñana Biological Station-CSICSevilleSpain
  4. 4.Department of ZoologyUniversity of GranadaGranadaSpain
  5. 5.Department of Life Sciences, Centre for Functional EcologyUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  6. 6.Departamento de Ecología, Facultad de Ciencias (Edif. Biología)Universidad Autónoma de MadridMadridSpain

Personalised recommendations