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Meredith Root-Bernstein

Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad, Santiago, Chile ; SADAPT, INRA, AgroParisTech, University Paris-Saclay, Paris, France

Local ecological knowledge, governance and forest resilience in an agricultural landscape (scientific report)

Annual meeting: 2019

Fields-Topics: P7 Economics, Social Sciences

Type of talk: Fellows Speed Presentation

Local ecological knowledge, governance and forest resilience in an agricultural landscape (scientific report)


I have been pursuing interdisciplinary approaches between biology and anthropology since I was an undergraduate, receiving an AB in an Independent Concentration in Bioliguistics from Princeton University. I then did a MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management, both at Oxford University. Liking the balance between theory and practice and the interdisciplinary approach of conservation, I obtained a PhD in Ecology, focusing on the ecology and conservation of a small rodent and its habitat in central Chile, at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. Following this I obtained a postdoctoral fellowship on restoration ecology in central Chile, and as a postdoctoral fellow back at Oxford I expanded this to begin a pilot rewilding project with guanacos (wild llamas) in central Chile. I also began a set of collaborations in Italy related to conservation values and practices among various stakeholder groups in the Po Delta, and among migratory bird hunters. Next, as a post doc with the Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene group in Denmark, I have collaborated with anthropologists to develop methods of multispecies anthropology. My interests include community ecology, animal behavior, anthropology of the environment and multispecies ethnography, and policy.


Local ecological knowledge, governance and forest resilience in an agricultural landscape (scientific report)

Central Chile is characterized by a mix of intensive agriculture and smallholder subsistence farming, and is widely considered to be a degraded area with poor nature conservation. Alhué, a valley in Central Chile, is a cultural and biogeographical refuge, due to the survival of forest cover, biodiversity, and traditional practices that have largely disappeared from surrounding areas. We used multiple methods in an interdisciplinary collaboration to understand the interactions between local ecological knowledge, traditional agricultural and forest-use practices, and forest conservation condition.   Through ethnobiology interviews, we examined local ecological knowledge, uses of forest plants, and opinions about forest management.  Through surveys, we assessed the agricultural livelihood strategies in the valley.  Through anthropological participant-observation, we asked how people in the community thought that values and incentives affected the adoption of different agricultural and environmental actions. We also compared this to an ecological survey of the diversity of successional states and tree species throughout the Alhué area, with reference to different historical and current forest-use practices and disturbances across the area. Local farmers are primarily smallholders with less than 10 ha, and a high diversity of production crops and animals, although we did not observe any indigenous species or varieties.  We find that the local residents are aware of the biological and cultural uniqueness and value of their forests.  The forests show a high successional diversity, and appear to recover well from current and historical exploitation practices.  Local farmers have low interest in intensifying their production, but want training on agricultural techniques.  We discuss how this might be implemented to ensure sustainability and landscape-scale conservation.

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