Oxford Long-Term Ecology Lab

Long-Term Ecology, Biodiversity Conservation, and Environmental Stewardship Technologies

Meredith Root-Bernstein writes about a stimulating interdisciplinary exchange focused on student  research in Latin America.

On June 6, 2014, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the Environment and Development in Latin America graduate research seminar held at the Oxford Department of International Development. It was a nice opportunity for MPhil and DPhil students and postdocs to share their research and reflect on its shared contexts. The range of topics and methodologies was impressively broad, from ethnography to network analysis, from a focus on workers’ wages in the ethanol sector to predictors of tropical forest regeneration.

One theme that came out of the morning session, in which I presented, was the value of using historical and traditional practices as inspiration for conservation approaches today. The discussant Masooda Bano asked us why we should look to the past if past practices might have died out due to inefficiencies. A member of the audience also asked why we were intent on finding solutions from within indigenous cultures when cultural exchange has been a feature of human civilization forever. As Daniel Cooper’s talk on the Araruya people suggested, syncretic cultures can sometimes be quite robust. However, this example as well as the examples of resurrected practices that Claudia Comberti and I discussed, is against the backdrop of massive exogenous threats to socio-ecological systems in the form of colonialism. We argued that if the historical systems we were interested in had failed, it was not for endogenous reasons. Additionally, in all our case studies, and as highlighted by Daniel Cooper’s ethnographic approach, local knowledge and practices are contextual and rooted in the local ecology, which is an invaluable source of understanding that we need to attend to when assessing conservation interventions and potential outcomes. Tahia Devisscher’s use of quantitative methods to assess conceptual relationships and conservation scenarios regarding different uses of fire highlighted that there are many ways to communicate these findings, which may be useful when talking to policy makers.

The second theme that emerged in the afternoon was the importance of resurrecting area studies as an approach to doing interdisciplinary work at the conservation-development juncture, as suggested by Rosemary Thorp, Emeritus Fellow at the Latin American Centre. Area studies group researchers geographically rather than by methodology or speciality, and provide an obvious matrix on which to build potential exchanges of information and collaborative projects. The afternoon highlighted issues of governance, REDD+, smallholder behaviour and forest regeneration, human welfare and social reform, and citizen protest movements against the energy sector. All of these issues, though focused on the social side, intersect with questions of conservation vs. development, and indeed several of the presenters wished they had had time, either in their degree projects, or in their presentations, to delve more into both the social and ecological sides of their issues. Hopefully more students can be encouraged to do integrated socio-ecological research in the future, so that they will learn by doing when in comes to interdisciplinarity.

Details of the seminar can be found here

Latest News

October 26, 2021

Cymru Collaborations

Last weekend Anna Lee-Jones, NERC DPhil student in the OXLEL group, traveled to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) site in Bangor, Wales to discuss an experimentation collaboration with ... Continue reading

June 30, 2021

Government policy and targets insufficient to stem the tide of UK biodiversity loss

Professor Kathy Willis gave oral evidence as an expert witness to the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) inquiry into the the protection and enhancement of biodiversity and ecosystems in the ... Continue reading

June 11, 2021

Natural capital in the nation’s forests

OxLEL was delighted to host Dr Eleanor Tew as guest speaker at our weekly lab meeting on the 11th of June. Dr Tew is the national Natural Capital and Resilience ... Continue reading

April 19, 2021

New randomised control trial of the smartphone Humbug acoustic monitoring system starting this week in Tanzania

This Friday (23rd April 2021) a randomised controlled trial (RCT) aiming to understand use and uptake of the smartphone HumBug acoustic monitoring system will begin with 148 participants recruited from ... Continue reading

January 30, 2021

Mapping recreational amenity in Europe

Peter Long, Sandra Nogue, David Benz and Kathy Willis recently published a paper in Frontiers in Biogeography demonstating how to map the ecosystem service of outdoor recreation across Europe.  The ... Continue reading