Over the past 50 years the ecosystems on which we rely have been rapidly altered directly and indirectly by human action (MEA, 2005). Although these changes have led to unprecedented gains in human welfare, namely through increased food, fuel and fibre production, these gains have come at an ecological cost. Approximately 60% (15 out of 24) of the ecosystem services assessed under the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) are being degraded or used unsustainably. Considered and effective management is needed to address the inherent trade-offs between meeting current human needs and maintaining the capacity of ecosystems to provide services for future generations (Foley et al., 2005; Turner and Daily, 2008). However, for many ecosystem services scientific data is limited and alternative sources of information need to be considered when making management decisions (Berkes, 1999).
In recent decades, local ecological knowledge has received increasing interest for its potential use as an alternative source of information in the management and conservation of natural resources (Berkes et al., 2000). Local knowledge can be used to improve the management of ecosystems through validating or correcting established assumptions, guiding scientific enquiry and empowering local resource users. However, local knowledge is not inherently valuable to natural resource management and the methods employed by researchers will greatly affect its reliability. Drawing on a number of examples from relevant literature, the following essay discusses the opportunities and challenges of integrating local knowledge into the management of ecosystem services.
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