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Mammals and birds as ethno-indicators of change: their importance to livestock farmers in Arid Patagonia (Argentina)

Castillo, Lucía, Ladio, Ana
Environment, development and sustainability 2018 v.20 no.5 pp. 2161-2179
Aves, Mammalia, birds, climate, desertification, drought, environmental knowledge, farmers, humans, interviews, livestock, vegetation, wild animals, Argentina
This work focuses on the study of signs given to humans by domestic and wild vertebrates. These signs are interpreted culturally by settlers who live on the Central Patagonian Plateau and are taken into account in making decisions relating to their lives as subsistence livestock farmers. Open and in-depth interviews were carried out with 20 livestock farmers from 20 rural establishments of Sierra Rosada, Sierra Ventana and El Escorial. We found that locals’ body of knowledge is pervaded by dynamic events in a dialectical, bidirectional process that sustains their traditional way of life. In local discourses, we have distinguished two types of signs: biophysical (e.g. variations in vegetation and climate) and sociocultural (changes in family conformation or in the community, announcement of visit, etc.). We describe 30 signs given by 18 animal ethno-indicators (15 wild and 3 domestic animals, 9 belonging to the class Mammalia and 9 to the class Aves). These signs are used to interpret the natural surroundings and predict both short- and long-term environmental and social processes of change. Amongst the main results, it was found that domestic animals are important principally as ethno-indicators of long-term biophysical changes, whereas wild animals are mainly important in marking short-term biophysical changes and as sociocultural indicators. Finally, the importance of traditional ecological knowledge is discussed with regard to perception, through signs given by domestic animals, of desertification processes such as drought and lack of food on the land.