Photo: Kristian Bell

10th Anniversary of the Indigenous Ecological Knowledge Symposium

Indigenous ecologists meeting online today are marking the tenth annual Indigenous Ecological Knowledge Symposium as part of the Ecological Society of Australia conference.

Participants available for interview – contact Grace Heathcote; Ecological Society of Australia on 0404 542 523 or

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Indigenous Ecological Knowledge Symposium held each year as part of the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) Conference. Indigenous Ecological Knowledge “is a shared knowledge; it’s from people who live on Country, who every day see the seasons, they see the cycles through many years and generations. It just goes on forever and is handed down,” says Dr Noel Preece from James Cook University.

“The big knowledge that Indigenous people bring to ecology is profound, and it goes back a long way,” he says.

The ESA recognises the sovereignty, connection and knowledge of Traditional Owners across the country. This will be showcased during the Indigenous Ecological Knowledge Symposium at this years conference, with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who study and care for Country coming together to discuss historic dispersal of culturally significant species, the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal women, the two-way benefits of indigenous/non-indigenous collaborations, and more.

This will also be the second year that the ESA, in partnership with Bush Heritage Australia, offers the $5000 ‘Right Way Science’ Prize for the best presentation demonstrating ‘right-way’ science. ‘Right-way’ science is an approach to the practice of science that is based on respect, sharing knowledge, listening and learning. It brings together different frameworks for thinking for the benefit of people and country. The 2019 prize was awarded to the Yugul Mangi Rangers of North East Arnhem Land who, along with Elders and western colleagues, created the Yugul Mangi Faiya En Sisen Kelenda, or Yugul Mangi Fire and Seasons Calendar, to guide fire management in the South East Arnhem Land Indigenous Protected Area.


Also in this session:

Bridging the gaps between traditional/western science to support Aboriginal women’s health, wellbeing, and empowerment

Bernadette Duncan (Kamilaroi)

Reconnecting and engaging Aboriginal women with their language and cultural knowledge has been a catalyst for change in their well-being, says Kamilaroi woman and linguist Bernadette Duncan.

The Garragal Project bridges the gaps between traditional and western science knowledge for plants and animals to support the health, wellbeing, and empowerment of Kamilaroi women. This creates opportunities for reconnection to traditional language and cultural knowledge through physical, spiritual, and environmental practices with plants and animals on country.

“They are more motivated and committed to share and progress their language and culture through investigating plants and animals,” says Bernadette.

Information deemed suitable for publication was included in the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), which now includes Kamilaroi knowledge for more than 300 species.


To disperse or not to disperse? Multidisciplinary evidence of Aboriginal dispersal of Bunya Pines connections.

Patrick Cooke (Macquarie University)

Possible links between disjunct Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii) populations in north and south Queensland have been identified, says Patrick Cooke from Macquarie University.

“This suggests pre-colonial dispersal of these rainforest trees by Aboriginal people,” Patrick says.

Aboriginal people of southeast Queensland hold strong cultural connections to the Bunya Pine. This research further demonstrates the cultural significance of Bunya Pines and suggests development of an overarching biocultural management plan to conserve the biological and cultural importance of these interconnected disjunct populations across the eastern Australian coast.


Wanaka Wan’kurra? Biocultural investigation of critical weight range mammal resilience in north east Arnhem Land.

Bridget Campbell (Macquarie University)

A collaboration between researchers from Macquarie University and the Yolŋu Yirralka Rangers from north east Arnhem Land has found that four mammal study species have been undergoing declines, including two already listed as critically endangered (Dasyurus hallucatus and Mesembriomys gouldii).

The study also found that Yolŋu knowledge holders maintained more in-depth knowledge of culturally significant species, demonstrating the connection between cultural and biological conservation.

“This work showcases novel methods to engage Indigenous knowledge holders that could enhance species threat assessments and management, especially at regional scales,” says Bridget Campbell from Macquarie University.

“Respectful research collaborations with Indigenous knowledge holders will be instrumental to ensure the future resilience and restoration of the biological and cultural, or rather the ‘biocultural’ landscape of Australia,” says Bridget.


Sharper eyes see shyer lizards: Collaboration with indigenous peoples alters the outcome of conservation research

Georgia Ward-Fear (Macquarie University)

In a world first, a partnership between western scientists and Indigenous rangers has demonstrated that involvement by researchers from both cultures can critically affect the conclusions of the project.

During field trips to spot and capture Yellow-spotted Floodplain Monitors (Varanus panoptes), Indigenous rangers demonstrated significantly better spotting abilities across a range of factors limiting animal detectability (vegetation cover, distance, light conditions).

“The resultant broader sampling of the lizard population enabled us to detect positive effects of our conservation management intervention that would not have been evident from the subset of animals collected by Western scientists.,” says Georgia Ward-Fear from Macquarie University.

“This revealed a direct benefit to collaboration with local indigenous people,” says Georgia.

Georgia is petitioning for academic authorship structures that are more inclusive of indigenous communities by proposing standardised protocols for inclusion of all collaborators.


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