March 1, 2023

12:00pm, PST 1100 TLSB

Melva Treviño Peña
University of Rhode Island Department of Marine Affairs

" People are part of ecosystems, too: On the importance of including local voices in ecosystem studies "

The dominant view of nature in Western culture is constructed within a dualistic framework where nature and society are conceptualized as being interconnected but, ultimately, separate. In this paradigm, the natural environment is treated apart from culture and, therefore, from people. However, among traditional cultures, what we perceive as natural is inherently also social. Therefore, to develop a holistic understanding of an environment, we cannot treat people as if they are not an integral component of it. In this talk, I will expand on how ethnography and qualitative research methods can be applied to help researchers gain deeper insight into human-environment relations and develop more holistic understandings of the roles people have in ecological systems. I will present findings from field data collected in northern Ecuador, where I investigated local perspectives of ecosystem services provided by mangrove forests among multigenerational mangrove users. I found that gender largely informs how mangrove users perceive and value mangrove forests. Women are socially, culturally, and emotionally more connected to the mangrove ecosystem than men. Women also have a higher appreciation of mangrove resources and feel a stronger commitment to conserving these ecosystems. The ethnographic approach I took to study people-mangrove relations allowed me to see how different groups within a seemingly homogenous community utilize and understand nature. I also gained insight into factors that influence how individuals see themselves within a complex ecosystem such as a mangrove forest. These findings can be of value in the planning of coastal development interventions, particularly those aiming to be environmentally and socially just. It can also minimize the unintended consequences imposed on the human populations that rely on ecosystems for their livelihoods and cultural survival.


Host: EEB Graduate Students