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Can indigenous peoples be relied on to gather reliable environmental data?
Date:10/13/2011

No one is in a better position to monitor environmental conditions in remote areas of the natural world than the people living there. But many scientists believe the cultural and educational gulf between trained scientists and indigenous cultures is simply too great to bridge -- that native peoples cannot be relied on to collect reliable data.

But now, researchers led by Stanford ecologist Jose Fragoso have completed a five-year environmental study of a 48,000-square-kilometer piece of the Amazon Basin that demonstrates otherwise. The results are presented in a paper published in the October issue of BioScience and are available online.

The study set out to determine the state of the vertebrate animal populations in the region and how they are affected by human activities. But Fragoso and his colleagues knew they couldn't gather the data over such a huge area by themselves.

"The only way you are going to understand what is in the Amazon in terms of plants and animals and the environment, is to use this approach of training indigenous and the other local people to work with scientists," Fragoso said.

"If I had tried to use only scientists, postdocs and graduate students to do the work, it would not have been accomplished."

Fragoso and his colleagues worked in the Rupununi region in Guyana, a forest-savanna ecosystem occupied by the Makushi and Wapishana peoples. They support themselves primarily through a mix of subsistence hunting, fishing and agriculture, along with some commercial fishing, bird trapping and small-scale timber harvesting.

The researchers recruited 28 villages and trained more than 340 villagers in methods of collecting field data in a consistent, systematic way. The villagers were shown how to walk a transect through an area, recording sightings and signs of animals, noting the presence o
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Contact: Louis Bergeron
louisb3@stanford.edu
650-725-1944
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert

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