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Australian Aboriginal Peoplesí Seasonal Knowledge: a Potential Basis for Shared Understanding in Environmental Management

Suzanne M Prober, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences
Michael H O'Connor, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences
Fiona J Walsh, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences


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Natural resource scientists and managers increasingly recognize traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) for its potential contribution to contemporary natural resource management (NRM) and, through this, to more resilient social-ecological systems. In practice, however, inadequate cross-cultural means to organize and communicate TEK can limit its effective inclusion in management decisions. Indigenous seasonal knowledge involving temporal knowledge of biota, landscapes, weather, seasonal cycles, and their links with culture and land uses is one type of TEK relevant to this issue. We reviewed the literature on Australian Aboriginal seasonal knowledge to characterize contemporary and potential applications to NRM. This knowledge was often documented through cross-cultural collaboration in the form of ecological calendars. Our analysis revealed a variety of basic and applied environmental information in Aboriginal seasonal descriptions and calendars that can contribute directly to NRM. Documented applications have been limited to date, but include fire management, inclusion as general material in NRM plans, and interpretative information about environments. Emerging applications include water management and climate change monitoring. Importantly, seasonal knowledge can also contribute indirectly to NRM outcomes by providing an organizing framework for the recovery, retention, and cross-cultural communication of TEK and linking to its broader cultural and cosmological contexts. We conclude that by facilitating the combination of experiential with experimental knowledge and fostering complementarity of different knowledge systems, Aboriginal seasonal knowledge can increasingly contribute to more resilient social-ecological outcomes in NRM. Nevertheless, the seasonal framework should augment, rather than override, other approaches to cross-cultural NRM such as those with spatial and/or social-ecological emphasis.

Key words

Australia; Indigenous calendars; Indigenous seasons; natural resource management; traditional ecological knowledge

Copyright © 2011 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087