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Coupled Human-Natural Systems

Human and nonhuman nature interact in ways that are not always apparent. Coupled human-environmental systems support feedback loops, uncertainties and interactions that may only be apparent using multi- and inter-disciplinary approaches. I am currently working in collaboration with colleagues from the fields of geography, ecology, mathematics, anthropology, biostatistics, education and human rights to elucidate the dynamics of coupled human-nonhuman systems in the Amazon region. This work is supported by a coupled Human-Natural Systems grant from the National Science Foundation (DEB-0508094) and by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. These projects are based on my empirical observations of the role of cosmology and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) in regulating animal use by indigenous peoples, and of the way in which integration into western economic, political, and religious systems alters indigenous reliance on indigenous cosmology and TEK. By measuring and modeling environmental carrying capacity for vertebrate species, individual hunting behaviors, community level hunting effort and yield, various socio-economic variables, and landscape level environmental variables using methods from wildlife ecology, soil science, cultural anthropology, remote sensing, land use change and spatial, mechanistic and adaptive agent models, a research team of senior researchers, post-docs, graduate students, human rights NGOs, indigenous peoples NGOs and indigenous parabiologists and parasociologists is attempting to understand how shifting human worldviews interact with shifting environmental resources to affect biodiversity conservation.

Biodiversity dynamics and land-use changes in the Amazon: multi-scale interactions between ecological systems and resource-use decisions by indigenous peoples. (Current)

Co-PIs Kirsten M. Silvius, independent researcher; Jane Read, Syracuse University; James Gibbs, State University of New York-ESF; Associates: Flamarion de Oliviera, National Museum of Brazil, Brazil. Funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF).

We identify, describe, measure and analyze the social feedbacks motivating worldviews and hunting behavior as indigenous people of the Guyanese Amazon become more tightly integrated to national societies. Hunting behavior is an important feedback affecting wildlife dynamics that changes as indigenous societies become more tightly linked to national societies. To assess worldviews, we gathered data on visits to shamans by community members, their adherence to different Christian religions and their socio-economic status. We noted the frequency of visits to shamans and reason for visits as well as the nature of the advice given (e.g. if any meat is to be avoided or if certain places should be avoided in hunting trips). We also noted feedbacks linking individuals and communities to the biotic environment and physical landscape. We detail the nature of change using household level information on education, language fluencies, time spent in urban areas as well as data on household wealth, salaries and participation in the national market. From hunter surveys we ascertained the reasons for avoiding specific areas when hunting and also for using or avoiding certain animal species. To date our surveys indicate that various species, including grey brocket deer, dwarf caiman and anacondas, among others, are commonly avoided due to beliefs about spiritually dangerous aspects of these meats/animals. This analysis allows us to determine the strength of feedbacks in influencing and responding to integration into the national society. It also allows us to examine the nature of linkages between wildlife dynamics and the cultural mechanisms mediating hunting.

Biomass and below ground carbon on indigenous lands: implications for biodiversity, productivity, and REDD+. (Current)

With Kye Epps (Stanford University). Funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Palo Alto, CA, USA.

Soil quality should influence vegetation growth, physiognomy and biomass. Soils together with vegetation biomass should support significant amounts of carbon in ecosystems.  Our team has completed fieldwork to assess how soils and vegetation biomass influence carbon levels in forests, savannas and wetlands over a large area of Amazonia.  Through statistical and modeling approaches we are seeing how differences in carbon levels influence biodiversity, and how humans through land use change alter carbon stocks.  This is a collaborative project with the indigenous people of the region.  Outcomes of this project include soil and carbon stock assessments for use by local people in environmental management plans, as well as theoretical contributions to our understanding of interactions between soil, vegetation, animal biodiversity and humans.

Land use change in the tropics (Current)

With Eric Lambin (Stanford University). With funding by NSF and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.          



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