Rarámuri bird knowledge and environmental change in the Sierra Tarahumara, Chihuahua, Mexico

Date and Time: 
Friday, 18 March, 2016 - 09:00
, Andrew - First Nations University of Canada

Greater than 99% of the original extent of the Sierra Madre Occidental’s pine-oak ecosystem has been subject to logging, thus leaving few opportunities to measure changes in bird communities. This study examines knowledge of pine-oak (Pinus-Quercus) bird species held by residents of two indigenous Rarámuri communities in southwestern Chihuahua, Mexico: Cabórachi, a community logged extensively for close to 50 years, and Pino Gordo, which retains unharvested pine-oak forests. Research participants were asked to identify and name 105 color bird pictures and offer their opinions on whether their abundance had changed over their lifetimes. Residents of Pino Gordo provided an average of 42 Rarámuri bird names, nine to 13 more than Cabórachi residents. On average Cabórachi respondents failed to recognize old-growth associated species nearly 20% more frequently than generalist species, a difference that did not exist for residents of Pino Gordo. While culture change is likely occurring in Cabórachi, the greater loss in bird knowledge of old growth species suggests environmental change is having an impact on biocultural diversity. Older interviewees perceived 59 changes in abundance for 15 bird species and species groups, with 78% of these changes reported from Cabórachi. Many of these changes correspond to ecological changes recognized by western scientists. This research demonstrates connections between environmental conditions and the maintenance of traditional knowledge. The salience of many bird species makes ethno-ornithology a potentially productive means for documenting ecological change in regions where prolonged ecological investigations are difficult to conduct.