This thesis analyze local institutions and management practices related to natural resources and ecosystem dynamics, with an emphasis on "traditional ecological knowledge" systems. Papers I, II and III analyze ‘resource and habitat taboos’ (RHTs) with the objective to synthesize knowledge about informal institutions behind resource management. Papers IV and V focus on resource management practices and social mechanisms with a capacity to confer resilience in ecosystems. Ecological resilience is the buffering capacity of ecosystems to incorporate disturbance and yet continue to provide biodiversity and ecological services critical to societal development. Cases for the synthesis were mainly derived from the literature. Examples of RHTs could be grouped in six different categories depending on their potential management and conservation functions. These included both use-taboos and non-use taboos. The former regulates access to, and methods and withdrawal of subsistence resources. These appear to be closely related to traditional ecological knowledge, as it is defined in this thesis. The latter prohibits human use of species and habitats, and is closely related to religious and cosmological belief systems. As discussed, both groups of taboos can be comparable to ethics of academic conservation biology, although rationales behind such ethics differ. RHTs have effects that may contribute to the conservation of habitats, local subsistence resources, and ‘threatened’, ‘endemic’ and ‘keystone’ species, although some may run contrary to conservation and notions of sustainability. It is asserted that under certain circumstances, RHTs, and possibly other types of informal institutions may offer advantages relative to formal measures of conservation. These benefits include non-costly, voluntary compliance features. Results of papers IV and V revealed that there exists a diversity of traditional practices for ecosystem management. These include multiple species management, resource rotation, ecological monitoring, succession management, landscape patchiness management, and practices of responding to and managing pulses and ecological surprises. Social mechanisms behind these practices included a number of adaptations for the generation, accumulation, and transmission of knowledge; dynamics of institutions; mechanisms for cultural internalization of traditional practices; and the development of appropriate world views and cultural values. These traditional systems had certain similarities to adaptive management with its emphasis on feedback learning, and its treatment of uncertainty and unpredictability to ecosystems. Furthermore, there existed practices that seem to reduce social-ecological crises in the events of large-scale natural disturbance. These included practices that create small-scale ecosystem renewal cycles, practices that spread risks, and practices for nurturing sources of ecosystem renewal. These practices are linked to social mechanisms such as flexible user rights and land tenure. It is concluded that ecological monitoring appears to be a key element in the development of many of the practices. Management practices in local communities are framed by a social context, with informal institutions and other social mechanisms, and supported by a worldview that does not de-couple people from their dependence on natural systems. Since management of ecosystems is associated with uncertainty about their spatial and temporal dynamics and due to incomplete knowledge about such dynamics, these practices may provide useful ‘rules of thumb’ for resource management with an ability to confer resilience and tighten environmental feedbacks of resource exploitation to local levels. To link local institutions in cross-scale polycentric co-management arrangements may be a viable option for improving current resource management systems.
Stockholm: Stockholm University, 2001. , 38 p.