The sentinel role of forest dwellers. Eliciting local knowledge for the monitoring of climate change impact on tropical rainforests

The sentinel role of forest dwellers. Eliciting local knowledge for the monitoring of climate change impact on tropical rainforests

Edmond DOUNIAS (France)


The proposed communication is based on the assumption that the Central African forest dwellers could play a key role as ‘sentinels’ of the Congo Basin forest, as they would help the scientific community to better document the effects of climate change in places where these effects are poorly understood. Our research focuses on the bio-temporal signals that are detected by indigenous peoples from their surrounding forest environment. This perception conditions the local capacity to anticipate seasonal fluctuations and is a determining step of decision-making. How do these bio-temporal signals work when the bioclimatic compass is upset? How do indigenous peoples proceed to build up a prediction from the observation of these precursory signs? How are they are going to adjust their range of alerts to climate change is a crucial step towards adaptive strategies. Insects provide a particularly accurate category of signals because they are sensitive to very subtle variations of climatic conditions, at tight thresholds that are not directly perceptible by humans. Social insects have developed a critical sensitivity to tiny modifications of their environment. For instance, the function that bees can play as sentinels that alert us about subtle landscape alterations, no longer needs to be demonstrated. We propose to illustrate the value of these bio-temporal signals through the ‘Sentimiel initiative’. The fundamental challenge of this citizen science operation is to valorize local knowledge tied to beekeeping and honey collecting through a network that federates diverse local actors who possess empirical knowledge about bees and their productions and who, by their regular observation of the activity of these insects, can monitor the impact of climate fluctuations and change on local biodiversity. The ultimate ambition of the Sentimiel initiative is to gain international recognition for this widespread but neglected knowledge, and to give those who hold it the means to access to funding from sources which would otherwise be inaccessible to them.



Edmond Dounias works for the French public Research Institute for Development (IRD) and is Senior Research Associate to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). He is based at the Center for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE) at Montpellier (France). His research activities focus on the biocultural interactions between topical forests in Congo Basin and Borneo and their inhabitants, with a particular interest for hunting and gathering nomadic societies, in a context of drastic change. He has a significant experience in anthropology of food, including quantitative food consumption surveys and biomedical monitoring. He also explores the resilience of micro-level socio-ecological systems, the environmental vulnerability and local adaptive strategies of forest dwellers in response to external drivers of change, including climate change.

Social media

#resilence2015 #indigenous2015 

Stay Connected on:


Have questions? Read our FAQ here. If you still have queries, contact us at: