PNAS – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
[Accessed 4 May 2019]
Indigenous knowledge networks in the face of global change
Rodrigo Cámara-Leret, Miguel A. Fortuna, and Jordi Bascompte
PNAS first published May 1, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1821843116
The knowledge of nonliterate societies may vanish in silence jeopardizing indigenous peoples’ livelihoods. Yet, this cultural component is missed by studies on ecosystem services that have historically emphasized the biological dimension. Here we fill this gap by introducing indigenous knowledge networks representing the wisdom of indigenous people on plant species and the services they provide. This approach allows us to assess how knowledge held by 57 Neotropical indigenous communities is structured locally and regionally, how it is influenced by turnover in biological and cultural heritage, and how the progressive loss of biocultural heritage may undermine the resilience of these communities.
Indigenous communities rely extensively on plants for food, shelter, and medicine. It is still unknown, however, to what degree their survival is jeopardized by the loss of either plant species or knowledge about their services. To fill this gap, here we introduce indigenous knowledge networks describing the wisdom of indigenous people on plant species and the services they provide. Our results across 57 Neotropical communities show that cultural heritage is as important as plants for preserving indigenous knowledge both locally and regionally. Indeed, knowledge networks collapse as fast when plant species are driven extinct as when cultural diffusion, either within or among communities, is lost. But it is the joint loss of plant species and knowledge that erodes these networks at a much higher rate. Our findings pave the road toward integrative policies that recognize more explicitly the inseparable links between cultural and biological heritage.