Detailed programme

In our first year (2008), the IUBS Committee on Biology and Traditional Knowledge hosted a symposium (see ) on Biology and Traditional Knowledge at the Missouri Botanical Garden in the USA. Funding was received from 4 donors –  Sequoia Sciences, The Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Foundation, The William L. Brown Endowment, and The William L. Brown Center – in addition to IUBS.  Over 125 people attended this symposium, listening to speakers and actively participating in 9 workshops (see The unique contribution of this symposium was the dominance of presenters who are third world scientists with direct research interests in Traditional Knowledge representing South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, and Native North Americans. The workshops were lead by first and third world leaders with strict instructions to get all participants to contribute.  So the voices we heard were diverse and the outcome unique.

Our greatest breakthrough was the realization that we are not trying to "integrate" science and traditional knowledge but rather to have equitable and constructive dialogues among diverse knowledge systems to our mutual benefits. We had surprisingly heated discussions on:

  1. Definitions and Concepts: What is science? What is traditional knowledge? Are these cultural concepts in themselves? How are these concepts misinterpreted in pseudoscience and anti- science? Are there other concepts more relevant to integrating knowledge systems?
  2. Power and Interactions:  Are there (what are the) power structures inherent in science and traditional knowledge that limit interactions? What can be done to facilitate interaction? Are there processes to avoid these power structures or to share power?
  3. History of Traditional Knowledge and Science: the scientific study of traditional knowledge has a long history in the Western tradition, built on Greek, Roman, and Islamic foundations and in Eastern traditions, built on Chinese, Indian, and Islamic foundations. Participants documented and discussed examples of historical contributions of traditional knowledge to science including many examples beyond the dominant Western and Eastern traditions.
  4. Traditional Knowledge Informing Science: Traditional knowledge has informed modern science in many areas; those discussed included taxonomy, medicine, agriculture, natural resource management, and conservation.
  5. Equitable Interactions: Traditional knowledge is often adapted by science and re-applied in contemporary contexts and through contemporary management. What processes might facilitate more equal give and take?
  6. Processes and Results: What are the advantages and potentials for integrating different kinds of knowledge? What processes might facilitate these?
  7. Sticking Points: To what extent can true integration facilitate resolution of contemporary issues (e.g., collecting permits, benefit sharing, IP, information disemination, etc.)?  What can science offer traditional knowledge?
  8. Education: How can integration of knowledge systems enrich and inform education and capacity building?
  9. Policy: How can integration of knowledge systems enrich and inform decision making and policy?

A prize – the Fifth William L. Brown Award for Excellence in Genetic Resource Conservation – was given to Professor Nancy Turner, who studies traditional ecological knowledge systems and traditional land and resource management systems of indigenous peoples, particularly in western Canada.

Publication of this IUBS symposium is in press at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

In our second year (2009), the IUBS Committee on Biology and Traditional Knowledge hosted a second symposium on "Traditional Knowledge and Environmental Change" in conjunction with the IUBS-GA in Cape Town South Africa. Over 60 people attended the symposium from South Asia, East Asia, Oceania, South America, North America, Europe, and dominantly from Africa.  Funding was received from IUBS, ICSU, UNESCO, and from various GOs and NGOs for the participation of their members. Financially, the symposium was such a success that we are carrying money forward to fund our 3rd symposium in 2010 (see below). This symposium was coordinated with a second IUBS Committee on Human Dimensions of Biodiversity headed by Professor Kamal Bawa. Visa anomalies interfered with travel of Dr. Jan Salick, Head of Biology and Traditional Knowledge, as well as China and African representatives; nonetheless, other representatives stepped in and the symposium proceeded as planned with presentations and off site contributions on:

  1. Integrating traditional knowledge in climate change adaptation
  2. Role of indigenous knowledge in climate information gathering
  3. Traditional Knowledge and growing water stress in Africa
  4. Climate change studies in South Africa
  5. South African farmers responding to climate change
  6. Himalayan climate change and Tibetan Ethnobotany
  7. Local knowledge and climate change adaptation in the Himalayas
  8. Traditional knowledge and environmental change in India
  9. Resilience in Polynesian landscapes addressing climate change
  10. Ethnoecology for Andean biodiversity conservation
  11. Indigenous ways of knowing and Arctic environmental change

and discussions on:

  1. Local adaptation and scaling up traditional knowledge
  2. Future directions for science and traditional knowledge

One of the results of the final discussion and in consultation with our funders ICSU and UNESCO (the major funders of this “Traditional Knowledge and Environmental Change” symposium) was that this IUBS committee needs to broaden its audience. We spend too much time speaking to one another.  We need to find other organizations, committees, and special committees with which to interact and influence. Thus, since our last theme was on environmental change and since the majority of our funding came from ICSU and UNESCO, we decided to hold our next meeting in conjunction with the ICSU/UNESCO meeting on “Global Change and the World's Mountains" in Perth, Scotland 26-30 September 2010, see:


Our contribution will be a session on “Climate Change and Traditional Knowledge of Alpine Environments” to which we invite third world scientists involved in climate change research and traditional knowledge. Our webpage and session is currently underdevelopment.

Mountains, climate change, and traditional knowledge is particularly appropriate as our next theme since mountain areas occupy 24% of the Earth’s land surface; they are home to 12% of the global population, and another 14% of the population live in their immediate proximity. Globally, mountain areas are vital sources of water for agricultural, industrial, and domestic use. They include major centres of biodiversity, often coinciding with centers of cultural diversity where traditional ecological knowledge is maintained.  Furthermore, mountain systems are particularly fragile, and subject to both natural and anthropogenic drivers of change.