Ecological and Ethnoecological Classification of a Forested Landscape in the Tayal Mrqwang Territories, Taiwan (ROC)

Berg, Kevan James
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University of Guelph

In landscape ecology, it is widely acknowledged that landscape is as much a social and cultural entity as it is biophysical, and that people and place must be jointly considered to fully understand the evolution of spatial pattern. This thesis explores the overlapping biophysical and human dimensions of landscape in the context of an (i) ecological and (ii) ethnoecological classification on the local landscape of the Tayal Mrqwang indigenous people in north central Taiwan. The goal of the ecological classification was to identify ecosystem types for a ~3000 acre landscape by relating vegetation patterns to gradients of physiography, soil, humidity, light, pixel brightness, and human modification across 76 transect sample plots. Using multivariate analyses, seven ecosystem types were identified, ranging from xeric through submesic pine, bamboo, alder, and laurel forests to mesic evergreen broadleaved and mixed coniferous forests. At the broad scale, ecosystems were distributed along gradients of elevation, soil, humidity and human modification, while factors related to local variability in physiography and soil development were more important at the fine scale (i.e., within elevational ecoregions). Within lower elevation sites in particular, patterns of forest variation and soil development were resonant of ancestral practices, including shifting cultivation, terrace farming, arboriculture, and selective extraction. The objective of the ethnoecological classification was to explore whether the Mrqwang people categorize landscape variation according to systematic or multidimensional knowledge structures. Results of interviews and free-listing exercises revealed an unsystematized classification that recognizes a continuum of forest variation through the intersection of three overlapping categories: history of disturbance, topography and substrate, vegetation. These categories are modified through land tenure and toponyms. The classification appears accommodating of personal experience, and it is theorized that this flexibility results in dynamic knowledge that evolves with time, generating variable characterizations of forest variation rather than formalized categories. The thesis concludes that despite the lack of formalization, the Tayal are nonetheless highly cognizant of how current forest variation coincides with the environment and the activities of their ancestors. This knowledge represents immense local expertise and must not be excluded from conservation and co-management projects in the local area.

Landscape ecology, Forest ecology, Landscape ethnoecology, Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), Social-ecological systems, Landscape classification, Remote sensing, Multivariate spatial analysis