Local informant data, including local ecological knowledge, is now increasingly used by conservation biologists to obtain information on extremely rare and threatened species (1). It can uncover patterns of biodiversity status and decline, help understand the role of humans in ecosystems by directly targeting communities that extract natural resources, and is argued to be a cost-effective tool for complementing traditional field ecological methods, especially in study systems where long-term monitoring datasets are absent. China is one such country with high species richness and endemism; however, similar to many emerging economies, its ecosystems are under extreme threat from human exploitation and development. Using Bawangling National Nature Reserve (BNNR) in Hainan Province, China as a case study, I assess the extent to which low-income local communities rely on biodiversity in and around Chinese protected areas for their livelihoods. BNNR is home to the world’s last population of about 26 Hainan gibbons (Nomascus hainanus), the world’s rarest ape (3). Until recently, local people have relied on subsistence agriculture and hunting for their livelihoods. While governmental, non-profit, and research organizations have conducted awareness-raising campaigns primarily focused on protecting the Hainan gibbon, it is unclear what changes have occurred as a result of these efforts. Using local ecological knowledge and other quantitative social science methods, this study examines various aspects of social-ecological system dynamics including 1) how communities perceive the causes of decline and extinction of wildlife and whether they accept responsibility; 2) patterns and drivers of local people’s natural resource use behaviours at different scales, and to what extent their livelihoods depend upon the ecosystem goods and services supported by the reserve; 3) the effectiveness of conservation awareness-raising campaigns in promoting conservation behaviours among local communities; and 4) the applications of using local ecological knowledge for conservation research, and factors that underlie its variation and limit its usefulness. Based on the results of this study, potential solutions to maximize conservation effectiveness and improve human well-being simultaneously in heavily degraded ecosystems could then be designed. Conclusions from this study present further opportunities and key data gaps relevant to wider conservation contexts involving communities beyond this study system.
1) Berkes, F., Colding, J, & Folke, C. (2009). Rediscovery of traditional ecological knowledge as adaptive management. Ecological Applications , 10 (5), 1251-1262 .
2) Turvey, S.T., Traylor-Holzer, K.,Wong, M.H.G., Bryant, J.V., Zeng, X.Y., Hong, X.J., Long, Y.C., (2015). International Conservation Planning Workshop for the Hainan Gibbon: Final Report. Zoological Society of London, London/IUCN SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, Apple Valley, MN.