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Evaluating Rapid Participatory Rural Appraisal as an Assessment of Ethnoecological Knowledge and Local Biodiversity Patterns

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There is a pressing need to find both locally and globally relevant tools to measure and compare biodiversity patterns. Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is important to biodiversity monitoring, but has a contested role in preliminary biodiversity assessments. We examined rapid participatory rural appraisal (rPRA) (a tool commonly used for local needs assessments) as an alternative to surveys of vascular plants conducted by people with local knowledge. We used rPRA to determine the local-knowledge consensus on the average richness, diversity, and height of local grasses and trees in three habitats surrounding Boumba, Niger, bordering Park-W. We then conducted our own vascular plant surveys to collect information on plant richness, abundance, and structure. Using a qualitative ranking, we compared TEK-based assessments of diversity patterns with our survey-based assessments. The TEK-based assessments matched survey-based assessments on measures of height and density for grasses and trees and tree richness. The two assessments correlated poorly on herb richness and Simpson's D value for both trees and grasses. Plant life form and gender of the participant affected the way diversity patterns were described, which highlights the usefulness of TEK in explaining local realities and indicates limitations of using TEK as a large-scale assessment tool. Our results demonstrate that rPRA can serve to combine local-knowledge inquiry with scientific study at a cost lower than vascular plant surveys and demonstrates a useful blunt tool for preliminary biodiversity assessment.
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Keywords: Niger; West African Conservation; conocimiento ecológico tradicional (CET); conservación en África Occidental; investigación participativa; participatory research; traditional ecological knowledge

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Tufts University Biology Department, 163 Packard Avenue, Medford, MA 02155-5818, U.S.A., Email: [email protected] 2: Department of Biology, Abdou Moumouni University, BP 10662 Niamey, Niger 3: Department of Agriculture, Abdou Moumouni University, BP 10960, Niamey, Niger 4: Fletcher School Tufts University, 160 Packard Avenue, Medford, MA 02155, U.S.A.

Publication date: February 1, 2010

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