Environmentalists often look to science and practical solutions to preserve ecosystems. A recent study from Rutgers University highlights the important role that Indigenous people play in environmental studies.

Indigenous communities such as the Amazon's 'uncontacted tribes' who live in extreme isolation know the forests best. They can help scientists map and monitor changes in the ecology of the forest through time.

Indigenous People Are Teaching Researchers About the Environment
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The recently published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, the team collected over 300 indicators that indigenous people developed to monitor changes in the ecosystem. Most of the changes were negative such as the health of wild animals and increasing populations of invasive species that disrupt a healthy balance in the ecosystem.

Knowledge from local inhabitants can help influence decisions regarding ecosystem management. Professor Pamela McElwee from the university's Department of Human Ecology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences said that since the world is changing rapidly, scientists and indigenous people are a much-needed collaboration. 'Many Indigenous peoples have unique abilities to notice ecosystems altering before their eyes by using local indicators, like the color of fat in hunted prey or changes in types of species found together,' she said.

'Indigenous Knowledge is Absolutely Essential'

Moreover, scientists are unable to perform the same observations due to the remoteness of areas as well as the costs of research. 'Indigenous knowledge is absolutely essential for understanding the cumulative impacts of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation,' said McElwee.

One of the Indigenous indicators from nature is the 'timing of flowering signals' which indicate the best times for harvesting honey as well and indicating pollinator health. Pollinator behavior, such as observing bee populations, can then indicate the health of the entire ecosystem.

Regarding the relationships of the tribes and their source of food, cultivation practices and techniques can be developed to enhance agrodiversity. Since food production and consumption are influenced by social norms, culture, and spiritual beliefs, these practices can help scientists identify 'species or varieties that are genetically distinct.'

Indigenous knowledge is not just practical information to help scientists monitor changes in ecosystems, it is a part of their heritage which is passed down from previous generations. The knowledge that locals contribute can help organizations design conservation initiatives for preserving biodiversity and natural resources around the world.

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Linking Nature and Cultural Systems

The study is a part of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services' (IPBES) Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The IPBES aims to have regular assessments of the biodiversity and ecosystem all over the world. This is the first time that researchers assessed the benefits of working with Indigenous and local knowledge. The team wrote, that they can help...identify trends of change through diverse biocultural indicators and improve sustainable development goals and policies.'

'Partnering with Indigenous peoples can help scientists and researchers understand how natural and cultural systems affect each other,' said McElwee. Indigenous tribes continue to 'maintain an intergenerational connection to place and nature through livelihood, cultural identity and worldviews, institutions and ecological knowledge,' according to the IPBES.

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