Integrating traditional ecological knowledge and ecological science: a question of scale.

Gagnon, C. A., and D. Berteaux. 2009. Integrating traditional ecological knowledge and ecological science: a question of scale. Ecology and Society 14(2): 19. [online] URL:

This study compares Inuit peoples’ Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and scientific knowledge about the arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) and the greater snow goose (Chen caerulescens atlantica) in Nunavut, Canada. The authors interviewed Inuit elders and reviewed the scientific literature. They took a “just the facts” approach to analyzing the “complementarity” of data from the two knowledge systems. They found that combining knowledges for foxes expanded ecological understandings more than for geese. This was because foxes are year-round residents (scientists only do summer studies) and a more important for hunting (a priority for community knowledge gathering and transfer). The authors write that understanding the scale at which TEK and scientific observations operate is vital: “TEK usually provides a longer temporal perspective but a more geographically restrained view of the system…”

This study provides an excellent example of how the perceived duality between different knowledge systems can complement one another, with positive results. However, by focusing on duality, the authors do not question whether these are truly diametrically opposed knowledges. They emphasize the values behind TEK, while ignoring values driving scientists.

The authors missed several opportunities to quantify the baseline for temporal and spatial scales. The ignore a central question, what is the area that the community has traditionally used, and is using? This "area of use" should predict the spatial scale of TEK. Also, their literature review fails to quantify the increase in temporal scale facilitated by TEK - although the authors do quantify temporal scale differences in their own cases.

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