Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

Climate Change, Biodiversity and Human Adaptation
Location British Museum - Sackler B
Date and Start Time 29 May, 2016 at 13:30
Sessions 2


  • Rajindra Puri (University of Kent) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel invites work using ethnographic approaches to understand how people are responding to possible climate-induced biodiversity change--species loss, range changes and explosions--and the implications for theory and method in environmental anthropology and climate change adaptation policy.

Long Abstract

This panel invites papers that deal with the intersection of climate induced biodiversity change and human adaptation. Across the planet, species are being lost or changing their ranges rapidly, leading to possibly major changes in human-ecosystem processes. Climate change is one of several interacting drivers of these changes. People must adapt to such change, and the ways they adapt will affect both ecosystems and biodiversity, and human well-being.

Papers should deal with ethnographic cases that illustrate the ways in which people have adapted, or are currently adapting (or mal-adapting), to changes in biodiversity that result, e.g. ranging from the loss of a single species (e.g. a cultural keystone species) to a group of species (e.g. loss of native crop species) or trophic level (e.g. depletion of large fish), changing community composition (e.g. as a result of invasive species), changes in species' range, in population numbers, in pest and disease incidence, etc.

Questions that might be addressed include:

How do people perceive and understand such change?

How do people value biological resources and change in these?

How do people actually respond to risks, and what affects their ability to respond?

What are implications for environmental anthropology theory?

What are the contributions of studies to 'climate change adaptation' policy?

Papers are invited from both the developing and developed world, from so-called difficult environments and those that are not, from indigenous peoples living in the tropics or the Artic to 'modern' agriculturalists living in the North.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Using local and Indigenous Ecological knowledge to examine local-scale perceptions, effects of, and adaptation to, climate change on human/landscape interactions on the Pacific Coast of North America

Authors: Victoria Wyllie de Echeverria (University of Oxford)  email
Thomas Thornton (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

This research looks at how coastal local people perceive and adapt to changes in climate and biodiversity patterns, how these changes are affecting the landscape, resource use, and livelihoods in a local-scale view, and how these local understandings can be used to inform resiliency into the future.

Long Abstract

In this research we investigate the magnitude of historical and modern day environmental shifts in the coastal estuarine ecosystem in 11 Indigenous communities on the northern coast of British Columbia and Alaska, and how these communities are adapting to these changes, by examining TEK surrounding climate, biodiversity and resource changes. This coastal region is an extremely dynamic system where the local people have been affected by, and applied adaptive resiliency to, changing weather and biodiversity patterns for thousands of years, and yet this landscape has been poorly represented in the literature. Approximately 85 elders and resource users were interviewed using semi-structured techniques to record knowledge on: weather observations past and present, changes in floral and faunal distribution, range, quality, and quantity characteristics, changes to harvesting and processing techniques, ecosystem services, historical adaptation techniques, and policy and management.

Overall, the findings show that people have noticed many changes over time, but accelerating in the last 15-20 years, not only in weather patterns, but also in the behaviour, distributions and availability of floral and faunal resources. They feel these changes have affected the landscape, biodiversity and their livelihoods on many levels. Our ethnoecological data can assist in evaluating climate indicator and impact species, and show how local perceptions of climate changes are linked to changes in abundance, distribution, and quality of resources. By recognizing these changes and responses, it can be seen how people are currently adapting, and how built-in resiliency can be used to continue to adapt into the future.

'The Concept of Value and the Value of Concepts: Reconceptualising How Humans Value Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services'

Author: Patricia Howard (Wageningen University)  email

Short Abstract

I take a critical view of the concept of values as currently applied to biodiversity and ecosystem services. I propose and illustrate a novel approach based on the framework developed and piloted in an ESPA project.

Long Abstract

'Values' are best understood as a cultural cognitive domain: the domain and its meaning vary according to culture and context. 'Values' relating to nature are not discrete but embedded in mental maps of nature. Values are also embedded in entitlements, which extend to other species or spirits. These entail 'rules' about acceptable or taboo trade-offs (e.g. is it acceptable to allocate water through the market, should everyone share water equally or some should receive a greater share). Some cultures express values that are implicated in the over-exploitation of biodiversity and disregard of ecosystem services and others express values that promote them. However, among most scientists and policy makers, the concept of 'value' in relation to nature is disassociated from culture and context with utilitarian or consequentialist justification. The causes of behavior that undermines biodiversity and ecosystem services or that sustains them eludes those who are attributed with the authority to decide - who disseminate their own values about the nature of the threats and losses and who allocate costs and benefits. The values that are carried as 'baggage', whether implicit or disguised as 'necessity', hamper our ability to make sense of and change our world. The paper takes a critical view of the concept of values as currently applied in relation to biodiversity and ecosystem services. It proposes and illustrates a new approach based on the conceptual framework developed and pilot-tested in an ESPA-funded project as well as the appropriate contexts for the use of such an approach.

Climate Change Adaptation in Amazonian Indigenous Communities: The role of human-ecosystem interactions in supporting positive change 

Author: Claudia Comberti (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

Climate change is affecting Amazonian Indigenous communities, the ecosystem, & interactions between them, in significant ways. Adaptation is already occurring. Ethnographic & ecological methods are used to study these processes, and current & potential strategies for positive human-ecosystem adaptation. 

Long Abstract

The Amazon rainforest is a climate change hotspot, withimpacts already evident at local, regional and global scales. Whilst the ecosystem is undergoing change, numerous and diverse indigenous communities, with livelihoods and knowledge systems evolved through generations of close contact with the rainforest, are being forced to adapt. Like many indigenous communities worldwide, these are amongst the first and more severely affected by environmental change. Given the pace of change and the risk of loss of cultural and biological diversity, improvedunderstanding of these interactions is critical and urgent. 


This research project uses case studies from the Tacanacommunities of the Bolivian Amazon, to improve understanding of the human-environment interactions that support resilience to environmental change. The ecological-anthropological study focuses on perceptions of and responses to recent extreme events, such as the severe flood of 2014; changing rainfall patterns; rising temperatures; and changing interactions between these communities and their ecosystem. This work is corroborated with local climate and ecological data, to provide an interdisciplinary analysis of the situation. 


Research findings offer insights into factors important in supporting the resilience of these and similar communities,and their ecosystems. It uncovers the human-environment interactions important in supporting positive adaptation, with certain species identified as keystones for adaptation of the social-ecological system. Future challenges given the predicted acceleration in climate change impacts, and how positive adaptation can be supported in light of this, are considered. Finally, the potential significance of findings for understanding adaptation and resilience amongst human-ecological systems worldwide is considered.

The role of knowledge and information systems in human adaptation to biodiversity change

Author: Rajindra Puri (University of Kent)  email

Short Abstract

Based on literature review and ethnographic study of responses to invasive Lantana camara in southern India, I present a biocultural framework for conceptualizing knowledge and information systems in human adaptation to climate induced biodiversity change.

Long Abstract

This paper links processes of knowledge production, acquisition, transmission, distribution and change, in interacting ecological, economic and sociocultural contexts, which ethnographic study in India demonstrated are critical to the instantiation, or lack thereof, of knowledge in human livelihood activities that are responses to climate induced biodiversity change. Important knowledge include the characteristics of the biodiversity that is changing, how it's changing and why, and how these changes affect other types of biodiversity and ecosystem processes at various scales. Social position affects who knows and how they respond. Methodologically, the research developed an innovative link between a phenomenological approach for identifying responses and abductive causal eventism for analyzing the role of knowledge, as well as ignorance, in responses. The research demonstrates that knowledge change can be both cause and consequence of biodiversity change. Losses in knowledge and practice can also have effects on the biological and ecological properties of plants, in some cases leading to loss of local landraces or species extinctions. Changes in species of habitats may have variable effects on local knowledge and cultural values and practices, and the loss of a cultural practices may lead to a cascade of losses in knowledge about species. This co-evolving and modular character of knowledge systems makes human adaptation to changes in biodiversity a much more complex issue than one might first imagine.

Factors affecting the Development of Urban Food Gardens

Author: Kaneez Hasna (St. Paul's Crossover)  email

Short Abstract

Confined space management by creating food gardens are one of the most popular strategies for climate adaptation against food vulnerability. Knowledge gained from the physical and biological sciences is essential but not sufficient to understand the driving forces underlying environmental changes.

Long Abstract

More than three decades of research in the field of political ecology has shown that gardens are socio-ecological assemblages that foster social inclusions, provide access to green spaces to grow safe and healthy food in open spaces. However, little is known about what are the factors that are affecting the food gardeners, how do the gardeners' lives and livelihoods impact surrounding their gardening activities as part of climate change and adaptation process. Therefore ecological determinants, such as species chosen in the garden for planting and nutritional value of the garden produce are crucial factors in gardening. Inspired by these analyses my paper will explore the complex interdependent relationships between plants and people and other non-human beings in urban ecological conditions within which people's gardening activities are taking place. My paper will also examine the impact of policy frameworks on garden viability, and creating a garden environment attracting both human and non-human objects in the garden and community improvement, such as building community cohesion and social capital. I will provide ethnographic case studies from India and Bangladesh.

Biodiversity erosion and other environmental threats to sustainable living on low-lying banks and reefs: evidence in relation to shifting centres in Moluccan trading networks between 1600 and 1990

Author: Roy Ellen (University of Kent)  email

Short Abstract

The centres of Moluccan trade networks were vulnerable low-lying islands which persisted over many centuries, coping with physical hazards and biodiversity loss. This paper reviews the evidence, showing how system resilience through social exchange was able to accommodate perturbations.

Long Abstract

The central places of networks that we know to have been crucial in regional and long-distance trade in the Moluccan archipelago of eastern Indonesia between 1500 and 1950 were often environmentally vulnerable low-lying coral atolls, banks and volcanic islands. Nevertheless, they persisted over many centuries, riding periodic denudations and coping with physical hazards and biodiversity loss. This paper reviews the data we have for these hazards and the evidence for erosion and degradation in such locations, building upon and re-evaluating the analysis provided in the author's 'On Edge of the Banda Zone' (2003), based on fieldwork between 1980 and 1986. The paper attempts to show the importance of an historical ecology approach in explaining how the resilience of local systems through social exchange has been able to accommodate the consequences of specific perturbations. The paper concluded with some reflections on the implications for current assumptions concerning the impact of climate change and sea-level rise on small island systems.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.