Researchers have investigated community vulnerability, adaptation and resilience in the face of global climate change, as well as community perceptions of the local-level effects of these global processes. Less attention has been paid to exploring how climate changes are affecting subsistence strategies and socio-cultural systems even though this information is critical for understanding long-term landscape preservation. The research to be undertaken by University of Georgia doctoral student Rocío Rodríguez Granado, with the guidance of Dr. Julie Velasquez Runk and Dr.Theodore Gragson, will contribute to filling that gap through a study of how a local indigenous group is responding to changes in hydrologic cycles.

The research will be carried out among the Tikuna, an indigenous people who live in Colombia and who rely on their landscape for hunting and gathering and small-scale agriculture. Preliminary research has shown that the Tikuna are both aware of and are responding to hydrologic changes. The hydrological cycle determines what, where and when subsistence activities take place. The researcher's goal is to document Tikunas' adaptation strategies as an indicator of how environmental change understandings are influencing subsistence strategies more generally in Colombian Amazonia. Colombia is one of the most diverse countries in the world, in terms of both cultural diversity and biological diversity, and most of the indigenous groups left in the country are located in the Amazon region.

The researcher will collect information on Tikuna views of the environment and their changing relationship to it through semi-structured interviews, oral histories, focus groups, the elicitation of ecological calendars, and resource walks to map changing land use patterns and perceptions of environmental changes. These data will be compared to patterns of rainfall and temperature taken by the Colombian government over the last 40 years as well as parallel data collected by the researcher during the field year. The result will be a tropical case study that documents local-level environmental effects of global climate change, both culturally and materially, as well as associated shifts in livelihood and other practices.

This research is important because it will contribute to theorizing the relationship between perceptions of climate change and climate-change induced shifts in livelihoods. As such, findings also have the potential to contribute to the literatures on the complex adaptive human systems and historical ecology, and to the development of culturally effective conservation and development practices. Supporting this research also supports the education of a graduate student.

Project Report

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE Climate change is a reality and communities that are directly dependent on their environment for their livelihoods are often the least accountable for it, but also the most affected. In turn, indigenous people are more aware than the rest of the world regarding changes that are taking place because of the direct effect on subsistence activities such as hunting and small-scale agriculture. This project blends historical climate data with the Tikuna peoples’ perceptions of change to inform how livelihoods in the Colombian Amazon are affected by climate change. Interviews of local people indicate observed changes such as differences in seasonality, lack of cold waves (friaje), and more extreme temperatures and flooding events, which directly affect agricultural activities. However these changes are not seen in the same way by all members of the community. Thus, not all people adjust their subsistence activities in the same way, for example by planting in new areas or at different times. It is clear, however, that indigenous groups are not passive victims, but instead they are responding to perceived changes in complex and unpredictable ways. Research at the local community scale is scarce in climate change research, aggravated by the fact that decisions by policy makers often lack input from local communities. Local input is needed both to understand how groups are affected by change, but also to determine whether strategies that are implemented are successful for meeting local needs. This is particularly true in areas that are especially sensitive to "outsider" interventions, and areas that are already highly vulnerable due to over-fishing, logging, and other environmental changes, as is the case in the Colombian Amazon. Human activity is localized and changes in behavior depend on individual and community experience with climate variability and how it affects daily activities. This research represents an attempt to tie together local perceptions with regional climate data, improve understanding of climate change impacts on local activities, and ultimately inform local and national leaders about how local perceptions and strategies might be considered in land management and economic decision-making.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Jeffrey Mantz
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University of Georgia
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