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Advancing the use of local ecological knowledge for assessing data-poor species in coastal ecosystems
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Many of the world's most vulnerable and rapidly changing ecosystems are also among the most data-poor, leading to an increased interest in use of local ecological knowledge (LEK) to document long-term environmental change. The integration of multiple knowledge sources for assessing species abundance and distribution has gained traction over the past decade as a growing number of case studies show concordance between LEK and scientific data. This study advances the use of quantitative approaches for synthesizing LEK by presenting a novel application of bootstrapping and statistical modeling to evaluate variance in ecological observations of fisheries practitioners. We developed an historical record of abundance for 22 marine species in Puget Sound, Washington (USA), using LEK, and we quantified variation in perceptions of abundance trends among fishers, divers, and researchers. These individuals differed in aspects of their information environments, which are characterized by how, when, and where an individual has acquired ecological information. Abundance trends derived from interviews suggest that populations of long-lived rockfishes (Sebastes spp.) have been in decline since at least the 1960s and that three rockfishes protected under the Endangered Species Act were perceived as relatively less abundant than other species. Differences in perception of rockfish abundance trends among age groups were consistent with our hypothesis that the reported magnitude of decline in abundance would increase with age, with younger respondents more likely to report high abundance than older individuals across all periods. Temporal patterns in the mean and variance of reported rockfish abundance indices were qualitatively similar between fishers and researchers; however, fishers reported higher indices of abundance than researchers for all but one rockfish species. The two respondent groups reported similar changes in rockfish abundance from the 1940s to 2000s, except for two recreationally valuable species that fishers perceived as having undergone greater declines than perceived by researchers. When aggregated at appropriate spatial–temporal scales and in a culturally appropriate manner, observations of resource users are a valuable source of ecological information. Continued development of creative analytical tools for synthesizing multiple knowledge sources will be essential for advancing the formal use of LEK in assessments of marine species.
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