Chapter 12: The values of traditional ecological knowledge
As other living elements of the natural system, over time, we humans have developed strategies to use and modify our surrounding environment in a myriad of ways in order to satisfy our subsistence needs and our cultural needs and greeds. Culture – or the socially transmitted and accumulated system of shared knowledge, beliefs and practices – has allowed us to adapt to different local environments, modifying them to solve adaptive problems such as producing food, mating, caring for children, or managing social interactions (Tomasello, 1999; Henrich and McElreath, 2003). Because all humans share the same basic genetic endowment, mostly cultural adaptations can explain a range of locally adapted subsistence behaviors that range from Arctic foraging, to tropical horticulture and desert pastoralism (Henrich and McElreath, 2003; Boyd and Richerson, 2005). In that sense, culture can be seen as part of the adaptive strategy of human societies to dwell and survive in a variety of environments. In interacting in different ways with different – or the same – environments, humans have not only generated different adaptive strategies, or cultures, but they have also modified ecosystems. The interrelations between ecological and social systems are well acknowledged by the nascent field of social-ecological systems, which emphasizes the integrated concept of humans in nature and stresses that – given the numerous feedback mechanisms that link them – separating social and ecological systems is necessarily artificial and arbitrary (Gunderson and Holling, 2002; Berkes et al., 2003).
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