Oral history in the analysis of landscape change: An Amazonian Case Study.
Arce, Javier*,1, Padoch, Christine*,2, 1 Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, New York, NY2 Institute of Economic Botany, Bronx, NY
ABSTRACT- Studies of land cover and land use change have become increasingly important to ecology and conservation science. This is especially true in the tropics where declines in forest cover are deemed to pose global threats to climate and biodiversity. Most landscape change studies rely largely on the analysis of satellite imagery and of regional census data to determine drivers of change. Oral history has been infrequently used, and local perceptions remain an overlooked source of information on environmental change. This reluctance to use local history can result in a loss of significant data because human memories, especially those of people that have been exposed to environmental changes, contain ecological knowledge not observable by other means. This study uses oral histories of residents of the Amazon floodplain in Peru collected over the last three years. The history of communities bordering the Peruvian Amazon River are especially interesting as they have been exposed to recurrent economic boom and bust cycles and to extreme and unpredictable changes caused by the meandering river channel. The life histories and folklore in the region are replete with images of a landscape changed by both cultural and environmental drivers. We compare the information found in local narratives to those typical of scientific research. We furthermore, compare scale typical of oral ecological information with a set of historical air photographs, maps and satellite images of the region. These comparisons as well as others drawn from earlier case studies, demonstrate not only the value of local knowledge for ecological research, but also the discrepancies that exist between the "official story" of change and local realities. Finally, this work demonstrates the importance of including different scales of analysis in the study of landscape change.
Key words: landscape change, traditional knowledge, oral history, Amazon
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