A new study has found that indigenous people in the rainforests of Gabon have more knowledge about plant and fruit-eating animals (frugivore) interactions than that found in academic sources. On average, indigenous people in Doussala, Gabon knew about 732 different plant and frugivore interactions, covering 100 frugivores ranging from elephants to bats, and 286 plant species. Astonishingly, some locals were able to identify up to 2,700 interactions.
When comparing this Indigenous knowledge with information found in academic literature, the researchers found that 34 percent of these interactions were known only by local people, 22 percent were unique to academic sources, and 44 percent were shared between the two.
“Comparing knowledge from local people with academic knowledge from literature, we found that even though many interactions were known by both, local people were the most knowledgeable,” said study lead author Clémentine Durand-Bessart, a PhD researcher at Biogéosciences Université de Bourgogne and Centre d’Écologie et des Sciences de la Conservation, France.
“In our two months of fieldwork in Doussala, we obtained as much, if not more information on the diversity of interactions between trees and fruit-eating animals than those obtained (and published) in the academic literature that required decades of work.”
Indigenous knowledge has been historically undervalued. The findings highlight the need for integrating local sources of knowledge with academic literature, in order to fully understand the complexity of ecological networks. This would be particularly valuable in remote locations, where conducting scientific research could be expensive as well as potentially dangerous.
“An important aspect of ecological studies is to gather as much knowledge as possible to have a better view of how ecosystems work. Our study clearly demonstrates that local ecological knowledge, which is often unique, is invaluable to understanding numerous ecological processes, particularly in remote areas,” explained Durand-Bessart.
“The addition of these interactions to those of the academic literature are changing what we know of tree-frugivore interactions and will ultimately help to inform how we protect these species and habitats.”
According to Durand-Bessart, there is an urgent need for a collaborative relationship between scientists and local communities, from which both parties can benefit. “This can be done through valuing local knowledge and compiling the collected knowledge in local dialects. I also think it’s really important to share the feedback from the study to local communities who make this type of research possible.”
This study will be presented at the Ecology Across Borders conference in Liverpool, which takes place between 12 and 15 December, 2021.