On Using Expert-Based Science to 'Test' Local Ecological Knowledge: A response to: Gilchrist et al. 2005. 'Can Local Ecological Knowledge Contribute to Wildlife Management? Case Studies of Migratory Birds'

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"The challenges and opportunities of incorporating information collected through scientific studies with the experience-based knowledge of resource dependent communities have been the focus of numerous studies. However, there are relatively few examples in which ecological science and local knowledge have both been successfully incorporated to provide meaningful input into resource management. In their recent article in Ecology and Society, Gilchrist et al. provide a thorough evaluation of Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK) using expert-based ecological studies often referred to as 'western science.' Although we applaud their recognition of the value of and desire to promote LEK, it is unfortunate that they use expert-based ecological data as a 'test' to determine the 'reliability' of LEK. Even though the authors indicate their wish to use the two different approaches to identify 'constraints and limitations of both approaches,' they fail to discuss the assumptions, limitations, or constraints of the ecological studies that they use. We do not take issue with their ecological studies; we presume they are of the highest quality. However, to assume that the ecological studies are error free and without any bias or limitation is perhaps somewhat misguided, albeit an assumption that many scientists still make. Indeed, Freeman (1992) provides examples in which conflicts occurred in the Canadian Arctic between LEK and expert-based science over aerial surveys of bowhead whales in the Beaufort Sea and caribou in what is now Nunavut, where local perceptions of the state of these wildlife populations were initially considered 'unreliable' but were resolved when biases in ecological studies were corrected using local knowledge. These case studies illustrate the limitations of ecological research and monitoring, and provide a cautionary tale against accepting them as 'truth.'"
local knowledge, ecology, birds, animal behavior