Ethnobiological knowledge of the Sonoran Desert
O'Brien, Colleen Marie
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Recent ethnobiological research has demonstrated generational differences in nature knowledge and methods of learning and a loss of ecological knowledge in younger generations. This dissertation investigates ethnobiological knowledge distribution among children and adults in Ajo, Arizona, a rural town located 30 miles north of the United States / Mexico Border in the Sonoran Desert. Ethnographic research using a mixed method approach of quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis was conducted over 18 months to determine if behavioral or demographic factors contribute to knowledge variation both within and between two generational cohorts. Structured interviews included 129 Anglo, Mexican, and Tohono O’odham participants. Interviews consisted of a free listing exercise, recognition test of 45 culturally salient plants and animals elicited through video clips, and structured questions on demographics, learning, and behavior. Both cohorts report learning ethnobiolgical knowledge primarily through vertical transmission from parents and grandparents. Children are more likely than adults to be limited to declarative (naming abilities) rather than procedural knowledge (uses and beliefs) about Sonoran plants and animals. Today, children are learning in different ways than adults did at their age, which does not necessarily affect the quantity of what they know, but rather the quality and content of their knowledge. Children are limited to generic names while adults use species specific names. Changes in acquisition and exposure have prevented the persistence of knowledge about certain key species such plants used for wild foods in younger generations. Recognition scores increase significantly with age, location of home, park visitation, and hunting in the children’s cohort and ethnicity in the adult cohort. Naming and recognition abilities are not significantly associated with how the knowledge was acquired. However, children who participate in experience-based activities such as hunting are better able to identify wild foods, know more species-specific names, and have more knowledge about ecology and uses. These findings suggest that situated learning that occurs within an ecological and social context imparts knowledge that is qualitatively different than abstract learning. Results are being applied to biocultural educational program development in nearby Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.