Socio-ecology: advancing towards the integration of the “human dimension” in the study and understanding of ecosystems in southern South America. 5th Binational Ecology Meeting, Puerto Varas, Chile. Salón Osorno, Hotel Patagónico, 8:30-11:30, 5 November 2013
The objective of this panel was to analyze how the study and management of socio-ecological topics can generate a greater understanding and favor the search for solutions at the local/regional level. Through presentations, discussions and associated posters, this symposium seeks to achieve a revision and analysis of the conceptual and methodological advances that are necessary to achieve a true and effective integration between natural and social sciences and the humanities. From this symposium, we hope to generate proposals that contribute to the projection of socio-ecology in Chile and Argentina as well as a Latin American and global scale. A manuscript for the Debates section of Ecologia Austral is currently in preparation by the symposium participants.
With more than 30 years of history, the Austral Center for Scientific Research (CADIC for its initials in Spanish) is the major research center in the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago and indeed for southern Patagonia’s sub-Antarctic ecoregion. Hosting more than 100 scientists, technicians, students and support staff, CADIC works in a diverse array of areas, ranging from forestry, geology, archaeology, international relations, outreach, ecology and horticulture. Now, with an investment of nearly $2 million USD, the research institute has nearly doubled its space. The inaugural ceremony was presided over by President Cristina Fernandez by videoconference and the physical presence of Provincial Governor Fabiana Rios, demonstrating the highest political support for research in Tierra del Fuego, but also was attended by local scientists and citizens of Tierra del Fuego. For more information: CONICET website.
The Argentine National Parks Service organized a workshop from 2-4 May in Calafate, Santa Cruz Province to advance a national strategy for invasive species. Organizers from the National Conservation Office lead participants from throughout the country’s regional scientific offices in progressing the formation of a national agenda that will complement similar efforts being advanced by the National Secretary of Environment and Sustainable Development. The event permitted authorities from diverse parts of Argentina to come together and recognize common threats and plan methodologies that will allow them to more effectively deal with the problem of introduced and invasive flora and fauna.
The recently launched National University of Tierra del Fuego has taken on several major challenges. Not only is it the world’s southernmost institution of higher learning, but it has also taken on the challenge of meeting modern societies needs and placing its universities at the forefront of leading the development of the territory. One way this is being accomplished is by having all incoming students attend a course entitled “Introduction to the Study of Society, Culture and Environment”. UNTDF also is constituted by 4 interdisciplinary institutes, rather than the traditional “faculty” system made up of established fields of study within specific domains. In this way, the university is working to not only break rigid academic structures but also make sure that its work is relevant for social and environmental realities of Tierra del Fuego.
Increasingly science funding agencies around the world are recognizing the need to link academic research and private and public sectors. Chile’s national science and technology commission (CONICYT) recently created a program to encourage precisely that type of linkage. One of the selected projects was presented by Dr. Silvia Murcia and Ernesto Davis, previously the beneficiary of an OSARA scholarship to conduct his masters. Their proposal, entitled Scientific-Technological Transfer for the Training of the Tourism Sector in the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctic Region, includes the participation of COMAPA, one of the major tourism companies in southern Patagonia. Over the course of a year, this co-financing of CONICYT and COMAPA will allow a systematic training regime to be implemented for the company’s guides. However, a novel aspect of the program will be not merely to teach the guides scientifically-related topics, but also to train them to become monitors within the national parks they visit to collect important (and hard to access) data and also as a “real-time” feedback mechanism for the company itself to evaluate and improve its practices, such as environmental impact but also the development of new narratives and content for the offerings provided to tourists. OSARA’s role in the project will be to advise the development of monitoring criteria and protocols and training for guides in the area of sustainable development and conservation.
A group of five eco-hydrologists and riparian restoration specialists, led by Dr. Cherie Westbrook at the University of Saskathchewan, visited Tierra del Fuego from mid-February to mid-March to initiate a collaboration with the Austral Center for Scientific Research, the National University of Tierra del Fuego and the Argentine Administration of National Parks. Their team based their work in Tierra del Fuego National Park and started a long-term study of the effects of beavers on the hydrology and geomorphology of Tierra del Fuego’s watersheds. Ultimately, these results will be crucial to understand how and if riparian ecosystems can be restored upon beaver removal. An associated project, led by Dr. Colin Whitfield, studied the effects of beavers on carbon dynamics, specifically emission of methane. These results too will prove crucial in filling gaps in our current knowledge and understanding about the impacts of beaver invasion in southern Patagonia, particularly as they relate to carbon storage and sequestration.
As part of the Argentine Ministry of Education’s efforts to increase networking capacity of its universities, the National University of Tierra del Fuego (UNTDF) recently was awarded a project to lead the conformation of a network of “archipelagic” universities that include the University of the West Indies with various campuses throughout the Caribbean and the Universidad de La Laguna in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain. The proposal includes plans to work over the coming year to define the areas between these universities where collaborative projects can be developed in the areas of student exchange, territorial development, and environmental management/conservation with a specific emphasis on how each of these axes interface with the particular condition of being found in an archipelagic setting.
In January, the Program Director of Birder’s Exchange (BEx) Betty Petersen visited southern Patagonia on a trip organized by Mass Audubon. During that trip, she provided a BEx donation of binoculars and reference books on bird banding to support the long-term ornithological research coordinated by Tierra del Fuego National Park and the Austral Center for Scientific Research (CADIC). OSARA is proud to help facilitate the relationship between the American Birding Associations BEx Program and conservation and research agencies in southern Patagonia. This important contribution will help not only researchers and park rangers conduct their work, but also provide opportunities for tourism operators and lay people to be involved in the projects taking place in Tierra del Fuego.
At the northern tip of Glaciers National Park in Argentine Patagonia, the small town of El Chalten is situated in an amazing and iconic landscape. However, in spite of being flanked by the Fitzroy Mountains and just over these incredible Andean peaks the icy expanse of the Southern Icefields, El Chalten is not removed from global ecological programs. In the past few years, residents and park rangers have reported sightings of the introduced invasive species – the American mink (Neovison vison).
For this reason, the Argentine National Parks Administration’s Southern Patagonia Coordination Office has initiated a citizen science monitoring program to involve the local community in the detection of this species, to help managers determine quick and appropriate action. Managers, park rangers and scientists have created an education and involvement campaign that will last until February to create greater consciousness of the issue and also establish formal mechanisms for citizens to report their findings.
In the spirit of crossing boundaries (geographic, political and academic), the ECO-Link project being developed in Tierra del Fuego with the support of the U.S. National Science Foundation has sought to bring together collaborators from Chile, Argentina and the U.S. to study the social and ecological dimensions of invasive species management and ecosystem restoration. These team members include government agencies, such as the Argentine National Parks Service and the Chilean Agriculture and Livestock Service, but also academic programs, such as Virginia Tech University and the National University of Tierra del Fuego. Beginning in December 2012, this group has expanded to include a nascient collaboration with the Catholic University in Santiago. From mid-December to mid-January, Gabriel Zegers (student of Agronomy with a mention in Environmental Management) conducted an internship at the Austral Center for Scientific Research in Ushuaia. Under the aegis of ECO-Link, Gabriel carried out a preliminary analysis of the political and institutional dimensions of Chilean incentives, laws and regulations surrounding invasive species and ecosystem conservation.
For the past 3 years, researchers at the Austral Center for Scientific Research have led an initiative to establish long-term avian research in Tierra del Fuego Island. With the support of Birder’s Exchange, these scientists are working with the staff of Tierra del Fuego National Park and local tourism operators to link the ecological research with other social actors and bring greater awareness and involvement of the citizens of Ushuaia to the forest birds that surround the world’s southernmost city. To date, this project has helped to establish seasonal patterns of forest avifauna and also determined specific vegetation and habitat conditions required for particular species. The goal of this program is not only to involved different social actors in the research being conducted in the national park, but also bring tools that decision makers can use in the future to improve the design of protected areas, specifically bringing a landscape level focus to the study of biota and habitat in southern Patagonia.
The National Geographic Society recently awarded a Young Explorer Grant to Jon Henn, who together with Drs. Guillermo Martínez Pastur, Vanessa Lencinas and Christopher Anderson, prepared the project to study the methods needed to restore riparian Nothofagus forests in Tierra del Fuego after the removal of invasive beavers. Mr. Henn will work with researchers in Tierra del Fuego for a year with the support of a Fulbright Scholarship, as well. During that time, this team seeks to determine key information regarding the ecophysiology and regenerative capacity of Nothofagus trees in beaver meadows. In this context, the research will also be linked with other ongoing studies funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation to better understand and manage invasive species and ecosystem services in southern Patagonia (see below).
The US National Science Foundation recently awarded a major grant to Virginia Tech University, Advanced Conservation Strategies and OSARA to conduct a social-ecological research project in Tierra del Fuego during the coming two years. The project, entitled Ecology, Culture & Outcomes: Linking Human Perceptions & Socio-Ecological Thresholds for Ecosystem Restoration (ECO-Link) brings together US researchers with Argentine and Chilean colleagues from academic, NGO, and governmental institutions to determine whether a current lack of participation in ecosystem management initiatives by landowners is influenced by a broken incentive structure that does not account for feedbacks between underlying social perceptions and ecosystem service delivery. Studying efforts to control invasive beavers and subsequently reforest riparian zones on Tierra del Fuego Island, we hypothesize that the thresholds that separate inaction from action in conservation can be overcome by explicitly integrating social and ecological understanding into the design of effective incentives. The link is currently seeking to hire a postdoctoral fellow and a master’s student. More information on MS position can be obtained by contacting Co-PI Dr. Michael Sorice. For notification when the postdoctoral advertisement is posted, contact PI Dr. Christopher Anderson, the project’s lead investigator.
From 6-10 August, the Argentine National Patagonia Center (CENPAT for its acronym in Spanish) hosted the 3rd “Young Patagonia Conservation Leaders” Meeting in Puerto Madryn. Participants came from throughout Patagonia and were invited specifically based on their efforts in marine conservation. Workshops held during the week-long event focused on leadership development with specific courses on interpersonal communication and project design and evaluation. An outgrown of these training initiatives, led by Dr. Alexandra Sapoznikow, is the creation of a new Patagonia-wide emerging leaders network that is meant to help those interested in promoting conservation obtain the networking and professional skills necessary to influence not only research but policy and sustainability outcomes. During these meetings, OSARA President Dr. Christopher Anderson was asked to give a talk at CENPAT on Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research Sites: Conceptual Foundations and Projections in Argentina, which is part of the information recently published in English and Spanish in the August edition of Austral Ecology. Dr. Anderson led a team of 17 co-authors from Chile, Argentina and the US in an effort to establish a joint agenda on LTSER in the Southern Cone.