Operationalizing Local Ecological Knowledge in Climate Change Research: Challenges and Opportunities of Citizen Science

Part of the Ethnobiology book series (EBL)


Current research on the local impacts of climate change is based on contrasting results from the simulation of historical trends in climatic variables produced with global models against climate data from independent observations. To date, these observations have mostly consisted of weather data from standardized meteorological stations. Given that the spatial distribution of weather stations is patchy, climate scientists have called for the exploration of new data sources. Knowledge developed by Indigenous Peoples and local communities with a long history of interaction with their environment has been proposed as a data source with untapped potential to contribute to our understanding of the local impacts of climate change. In this chapter, we discuss an approach that aims to bring insights from local knowledge systems to climate change research. First, we present a number of theoretical arguments that give support to the idea that local knowledge systems can contribute in original ways to the endeavors of climate change research. Then, we explore the potential of using information and communication technologies to gather and share local knowledge of climate change impacts. We do so through the examination of a citizen science initiative aiming to collect local indicators of climate change impacts: the LICCI project ( Our findings illustrate that citizen science can inspire new approaches to articulate the inclusion of local knowledge systems in climate change research. However, this requires outlining careful approaches, with high ethical standards, toward knowledge validation and recognizing that there are aspects of local ecological knowledge that are incommensurable with scientific knowledge.


Climate change Co-production of knowledge Downscaling Ethnoclimatology Indigenous and local knowledge Information and communication technologies 



Research leading to this chapter has received funding from the Spanish government through a grant of the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (CSO2014-59704-P) and from the European Research Council under an ERC Consolidator Grant (FP7-771056-LICCI). García-del-Amo and Reyes-García acknowledge financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, through the “María de Maeztu” program for Units of Excellence in R&D (MdM-2015-0552). Fernández-Llamazares and Cabeza acknowledge financial support from the Academy of Finland (grant agreement nrs. 311176 and 257686).


  1. Adger W, Barnett J, Brown K, Marshall N, O’Brien K (2013) Cultural dimensions of climate change impacts and adaptation. Nat Clim Chang 3:112–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Agrawal A (1995) Dismantling the divide between indigenous and scientific knowledge. Dev Chang 26(3):413–439. Scholar
  3. Alessa LN, Kliskey AA, Williams P, Barton M (2008) Perception of change in freshwater in remote resource-dependent Arctic communities. Glob Environ Chang 18(1):153–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barnes J, Dove M, Lahsen M, Mathews A, McElwee P, McIntosh R et al (2013) Contribution of anthropology to the study of climate change. Nat Clim Chang 3:541–544CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berkes F (2008) Sacred ecology. Routledge, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berkes F (2017) Environmental governance for the anthropocene? Social-ecological systems, resilience, and collaborative learning. Sustainability 9(7):1232. Scholar
  7. Boillat S, Berkes F (2013) Perception and interpretation of climate change among Quechua farmers of Bolivia: indigenous knowledge as a resource for adaptive capacity. Ecol Soc 18(4):21. Scholar
  8. Brohan P, Kennedy JJ, Harris I, Tett SFB, Jones PD (2006) Uncertainty estimates in regional and global observed temperature changes: a new data set from 1850. J Geophys Res 111:D12106. Scholar
  9. Brokensha D, Warren D, Werner O (1980) Indigenous knowledge systems and development. University Press of America, LanhamGoogle Scholar
  10. Calvet-Mir L, Benyei P, Aceituno-Mata L, Pardo de Santayana M, López-García D, Carrascosa M et al (2018) Contributions of traditional agroecological knowledge as a digital commons to agroecological transitions. The case of the CONECT-e platform. Sustainability 10:3214. Scholar
  11. Chaudhary P, Bawa KS (2011) Local perceptions of climate change validated by scientific evidence in the Himalayas. Biol Lett 11(8):767–770CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Crate SA (2011) Climate and culture: anthropology in the era of contemporary climate change. Annu Rev Anthropol 40(40):175–194. Scholar
  13. Crona B, Wutich A, Brewis A, Gartin M (2013) Perceptions of climate change: linking local and global perceptions through a cultural knowledge approach. Clim Chang 119(2):519–531. Scholar
  14. Devictor V, Whittaker RJ, Beltrame C (2010) Beyond scarcity: citizen science programmes as useful tools for conservation biogeography. Divers Distrib 16:354–362. Scholar
  15. Dickinson JL, Shirk J, Bonter D, Bonney R, Crain RL, Martin J et al (2012) The current state of citizen science as a tool for ecological research and public engagement. Front Ecol Environ 10(6):291–297. Scholar
  16. Eisner WR, Hinkel KM, Cuomo CJ, Beck RA (2013) Environmental, cultural, and social change in Arctic Alaska as observed by Iñupiat elders over their lifetimes: a GIS synthesis. Polar Geogr 36:1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fernández-Llamazares Á (2015) Indigenous knowledge of a changing environment: an ethnoecological perspective from Bolivian Amazonia. PhD thesis, Autonomous University of BarcelonaGoogle Scholar
  18. Fernández-Llamazares Á, Cabeza M (2017) Rediscovering the potential of indigenous storytelling for conservation practice. Conserv Lett 11:1–12. Scholar
  19. Fernández-Llamazares Á, Méndez-López E, Díaz-Reviriego I, McBride M, Pyhälä A, Rosell-Melé A, Reyes-García V (2015) Links between media communication and local perceptions of climate change in an indigenous society. Clim Chang 131(2):307–320. Scholar
  20. Fernández-Llamazares A, García R, Díaz-Reviriego I, Cabeza M, Pyhälä A, Reyes-García V (2017) An empirically-tested overlap between local and scientific knowledge of a changing climate. Reg Environ Change 17(6):1673–1685. Scholar
  21. Ford JD (2012) Indigenous health and climate change. Am J Public Health 102(7):1260–1266. Scholar
  22. Ford JD, Cameron L, Rubis J, Maillet M, Nakashima D, Willox AC et al (2016) Including indigenous knowledge and experience in IPCC assessment reports. Nat Clim Chang 6(4):349–353. Scholar
  23. Galloway-McLean K (2010) Advance guard: climate change impacts, adaptation, mitigation and indigenous peoples–a compendium of case studies. United Nations University, Institute for Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS), Traditional Knowledge Initiative, DarwinGoogle Scholar
  24. Garay-Barayazarra G, Puri RK (2011) Smelling the monsoon: senses and traditional weather forecasting knowledge among the Kenyah Badeng farmers of Sarawak, Malaysia. Indian J Tradit Knowl 10:21–30Google Scholar
  25. Gearheard S, Matumeak W, Angutikjuaq I, Maslanik J, Huntington HP, Leavitt J et al (2006) “It’s not that simple”: a collaborative comparison of sea ice environments, their uses, observed changes, and adaptations in Barrow, Alaska, USA, and Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada. Ambio 35(4):204–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gearheard S, Aporta C, Aipellee G, O’Keefe K (2011) The Igliniit project: Inuit hunters document life on the trail to map and monitor arctic change. Can Geogr 55(1):42–55. Scholar
  27. Giorgi F, Jones C, Asrar GR (2009) Addressing climate information needs at the regional level: the CORDEX framework. World Meteorol Organ Bull 58(3):175–183Google Scholar
  28. Grainger A (2017) Citizen observatories and the new earth observation science. Remote Sens 9(2):153. Scholar
  29. Grau-Satorras M, Otero I, Gómez-Baggethun E, Reyes-García V (2019) Prudent peasantries: multilevel adaptation to drought in early modern Spain (1600–1715). Environment and History.
  30. Green D, Billy J, Tapim A (2010) Indigenous Australians’ knowledge of weather and climate. Climate Change 100:337–354. Scholar
  31. Hijmans RJ, Cameron SE, Parra JL, Jones PG, Jarvis A (2005) Very high resolution interpolated climate surfaces for global land areas. Int J Climatol 25:1965–1978CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Huntingford C, Jones RG, Prudhomme C, Lamb R, Gash JH, Jones DA (2003) Regional climate-model predictions of extreme rainfall for a changing climate. Q J R Meteorol Soc 129:1607–1621CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. IPCC (2007) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  34. IPCC (2013) Climate change 2013: the physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge/New York, 1535 pp,
  35. IPCC (2014) Climate change 2014: impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Part A: Global and sectoral aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L. White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge/New YorkGoogle Scholar
  36. Iseke J, Moore S (2011) Community-based indigenous digital storytelling with elders and youth. Am Indian Cult Res J 35:19–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kassie BT, Hengsdijk H, Rotter R, Kahiluoto H, Asseng S, Van Ittersum M (2013) Adapting to climate variability and change: experiences from cereal-based farming in the central rift and kobo valleys, Ethiopia. Environ Manag 52(5):1115–1131. Scholar
  38. King DNT, Skipper A, Tawhai WB (2008) Māori environmental knowledge of local weather and climate change in Aotearoa–New Zealand. Clim Chang 90(4):385. Scholar
  39. Klein J, Hopping KA, Yeh ET, Nyima Y, Boone RB, Galvin KA (2014) Unexpected climate impacts on the Tibetan Plateau: local and scientific knowledge in findings of delayed summer. Glob Environ Chang 28(1):141–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kostakis V (2010) Identifying and understanding the problems of Wikipedia’s peer governance: the case of inclusionists versus deletionists. First Monday 15:1–11Google Scholar
  41. Krupnik I (2009) “The way we see it coming”: building the legacy of indigenous observations in IPY 2007-2008. In: Krupnik I, Lang MA, Miller SE (eds) Smithsonian at the poles: contributions to international polar year science. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, Washington, DC, pp 129–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Laidler GJ (2006) Inuit and scientific perspectives on the relationship between sea ice and climate change: the ideal complement? Clim Chang 78:407–444CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lantz TC, Turner NJ (2003) Traditional phenological knowledge (TPK) of aboriginal peoples in British Columbia. J Ethnobiol 23(2):263–286Google Scholar
  44. Lawrence A (2009) The first cuckoo in winter: phenology, recoding, credibility and meaning in Britain. Glob Environ Chang 19:173–179. Scholar
  45. Lefale PF (2010) Ua ‘afa le Aso Stormy weather today: traditional ecological knowledge of weather and climate. The Samoa experience. Clim Chang 100(2):317–335. Scholar
  46. Ludwig D (2001) The era of management is over. Ecosystems 4(8):758–764. Scholar
  47. Mallory ML, Gilchrist HG, Fontaine AJ, Akearok JA (2003) Local ecological knowledge of Ivory Gull decline in Arctic Canada. Arctic 56(3):293–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Maraun D, Wetterhall F, Ireson AM, Chandler RE, Kendon EJ, Widmann M et al (2010) Precipitation downscaling under climate change: recent developments to bridge the gap between dynamical models and the end user. Rev Geophys 48:RG3003. Scholar
  49. Marin A (2010) Riders under storms: contributions of nomadic herders’ observations to analysing climate change in Mongolia. Glob Environ Chang 20(1):162–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mearns LO, Hulme M, Carter TR, Leemans R, Lal M, Whetton P (2001) Climate scenario development, Chapter 13. In: Houghton J et al (eds) IPCC Third Assessment Report. The science of climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 739–768Google Scholar
  51. Mistry J, Berardi A (2016) Bridging indigenous and scientific knowledge. Science 352:1274–1275PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  52. Moller H, Berkes F, Lyver PO, Kislalioglu M (2004) Combining science and traditional ecological knowledge: monitoring populations for co-management. Ecol Soc 9(3)Google Scholar
  53. Nadasdy P (1999) The politics of TEK: power and the “integration” of knowledge. Arct Anthropol 36:1–18Google Scholar
  54. Nakashima DJ, Roué M (2002) Indigenous knowledge, peoples and sustainable practice. In: Munn T (ed) Encyclopedia of global environmental change. Wiley, Chichester, pp 314–324Google Scholar
  55. Nakashima DJ, Galloway-McLean K, Thrulstrup HD, Ramos Castillo A, Rubis J (2012) Weathering uncertainty: traditional knowledge for climate change assessment and adaptation. UNESCO, ParisGoogle Scholar
  56. New M, Lister D, Hulme M, Makin I (2002) A high-resolution data set of surface climate over global land areas. Clim Res 21:1–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Nichols T, Berkes F, Jolly D, Snow NB (2004) Climate change and sea ice: local observations from the Canadian Western Arctic. Arctic 57(1):68–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Orlove B, Chiang J, Cane M (2000) Forecasting Andean rainfall and crop yield from the influence of El Niño on Pleiades visibility. Nature 403:68–71PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Orlove B, Roncoli C, Kabugo M, Majugu A (2010) Indigenous climate knowledge in southern Uganda: the multiple components of a dynamic regional system. Clim Chang 100(2):243–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Pearce T, Smit B, Duerden F, Ford JD, Goose A, Kataoyak F (2010) Inuit vulnerability and adaptive capacity to climate change in Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories, Canada. Polar Rec 46(237):157–177. Scholar
  61. Prober SM, O’Connor MH, Walsh FJ (2011) Australian aboriginal peoples’ seasonal knowledge: a potential basis for shared understanding in environmental management. Ecol Soc 16(2):12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Pyhälä A, Fernández-Llamazares A, Lehvävirta H, Byg A, Ruiz-Mallén I, Salpeteur M, Thornton TF (2016) Global environmental change: local perceptions, understandings, and explanations. Ecol Soc 21(3):25. Scholar
  63. Reyes-García V, Fernández-Llamazares A, Gueze M, Garces A, Mallo M, Vila-Gomez M et al (2016) Local indicators of climate change: the potential contribution of local knowledge to climate research. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Change 7(1):109–124. Scholar
  64. Reyes-García V, Aceituno-Mata L, Benyei P, Calvet-Mir L, Carrascosa M, Pardo-de-Santayana M, J. Tardio for CONECT-e, IECTBA and Red de Semillas (2018a) Governing landraces and associated knowledge as commons. From theory to practice, Chapter 12. In: Girad F, Frison C (eds) The commons, plant breeding and agricultural research. Challenges for food security, agrobiodiversity and law. “Earthscan Food and Agriculture” series. Routledge, New York, pp 197–209Google Scholar
  65. Reyes-García V, Fernández-Llamazares Á, Guèze M, Gallois S (2018b) Does weather forecasting relate to foraging efforts? An empirical test among three hunter-gatherer societies. Weather Clim Soc 10:163–177. Scholar
  66. Reyes-García V, Benyei P, Calvet-Mir L (2019a) Traditional agricultural knowledge as commons, Chapter 11. In: Vivero-Pol JL, Ferrando T, de Schutter O, Mattei U (eds) Routledge handbook of food as a commons. Routledge, New York, pp 173–185Google Scholar
  67. Reyes-García V, García-del-Amo D, Benyei P, Fernández-Llamazares Á, Gravani K, Junqueira AB, Labeyrie V, Li X, Matias DM, McAlvay A, Mortyn PG, Porcuna-Ferrer A, Schlingmann A, Soleymani-Fard R (2019b) A collaborative approach to bring insights from local observations of climate change impacts into global climate change research. Curr Opin Environ Sustain 39:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Riseth JA, Tommervik H, Helander-Renvall E, Labba N, Johansson C, Malnes E et al (2011) Sami traditional ecological knowledge as a guide to science: snow, ice and reindeer pasture facing climate change. Polar Rec 47(242):202–217. Scholar
  69. Rosenzweig C, Neofotis P (2013) Detection and attribution of anthropogenic climate change impacts. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Change 4(2):121–150. Scholar
  70. Rummukainen M (2010) State-of-the-art with regional climate models. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Change 1:82–96. Scholar
  71. Rummukainen M (2016) Added value in regional climate modeling. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Change 7(1):145–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Ryan JC (2015) The virtual and the vegetal: creating a “living” biocultural heritage archive through digital storytelling approaches. Glob Media J 9(1):49–58Google Scholar
  73. Savo V, Lepofsky D, Benner JP, Kohfeld KE, Bailey J, Lertzman K (2016) Observations of climate change among subsistence-oriented communities around the world. Nat Clim Chang 6(5):462–473. Scholar
  74. Schaeffer M, Selten FM, Opsteegh JD (2005) Shifts in means are not a proxy for changes in extreme winter temperatures in climate projections. Clim Dyn 25:51–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Schweizer T (2006) Epistemology: the nature and validation of anthropological knowledge. In: Bernard HR (ed) Research methods in anthropology: qualitative and quantitative approaches. Rowman, Altamira, pp 39–88Google Scholar
  76. Shirk J, Ballard H, Wilderman C, Phillips T, Wiggins A, Jordan R et al (2012) Public participation in scientific research: a framework for deliberate design. Ecol Soc 17(2):29. Scholar
  77. Simpson L (2004) The colonial context for the indigenous experience of climate change. In: Helander E, Mustonen T (eds) Snowscapes, dreamscapes: snowchange book on community voices of change. Tampere Polytechnic Publications, Tampere, pp 25–29Google Scholar
  78. Stott PA, Gillett NP, Hegerl GC, Karoly DJ, Stone DA, Zhang X et al (2010) Detection and attribution of climate change: a regional perspective. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Change 1(2):192–211. Scholar
  79. Sutherland WJ, Gardner TB, Haider LJ, Dicks LV (2013) How can local and traditional knowledge be effectively incorporated into international assessments? Oryx 48(1):1–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Tam BY, Gough WA, Edwards V, Tsuji LJS (2013) The impact of climate change on the well-being and lifestyle of a First Nation community in the western James Bay region. Can Geogr 57(4):441–456. Scholar
  81. Tengö M, Brondizio ES, Elmqvist T, Malmer P, Spierenburg M (2014) Connecting diverse knowledge systems for enhanced ecosystem governance: the multiple evidence base approach. Ambio 43(5):579–591. Scholar
  82. Tengö M, Hill R, Malmer P, Raymond CM, Spierenburg M, Danielsen F, Elmqvist T, Folke C (2017) Weaving knowledge systems in IPBES, CBD and beyond – lessons learned for sustainability. Curr Opin Environ Sustain 26:17–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Turner NJ, Clifton H (2009) “It’s so different today”: climate change and indigenous lifeways in British Columbia, Canada. Glob Environ Chang 19(2):180–190. Scholar
  84. Turreira-García N, Lund JF, Dominguez P, Carrillo-Anglés E, Brummer M, Dunn P, Reyes-García V (2018) What’s in a name? Unpacking “participatory” environmental monitoring. Ecol Soc 23(2):24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Weatherhead E, Gearheard S, Barry R (2010) Changes in weather persistence: insights from Inuit knowledge. Glob Environ Chang 20(3):523–528CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Weber EU (2011) Climate change hits home. Nat Clim Chang 1(1):25–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Whitfield J (2001) The budding amateurs. Nature 414(6864):578–579. Scholar
  88. Zou L, Zhou T, Li L, Zhang J (2010) East China summer rainfall variability of 1958–2000: dynamical downscaling with a variable-resolution AGCM. J Clim 23(23):6394–6408. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA)Cerdanyola del VallèsSpain
  2. 2.Institut de Ciència i Tecnología Ambientals (ICTA), Universitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  3. 3.Global Change and Conservation Lab, Organismal and Evolutionary Biology Research Programme, Faculty of Biological and Environmental SciencesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  4. 4.Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS)University of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

Personalised recommendations