Elements of indigenous socio-ecological knowledge show resilience despite ecosystem changes in the forest-grassland mosaics of the Nilgiri Hills, India
The Nilgiri Hills in the Western Ghats of India constitute a region of high biological and cultural diversity, and include an endangered shola forest-grassland mosaic ecosystem. A mosaic ecosystem is one consisting of adjacent, coexisting patches of highly distinct naturally occurring land states (in this case, shola forest and natural grassland). Changes in the landscape since the nineteenth century have severely impacted the shola-grassland mosaic and challenged the traditional lifestyles of the indigenous Toda people. However, the responses of traditional Toda socio-ecological perspectives and landscape management to these changes have not been explored through population surveys. Here, using a survey method, the article explores traditional Toda perspectives of ecosystem value and landmanagement practices. The survey consists of interviews of 50 respondents belonging to 24 munds (villages), covering ten clans, neighbouring mosaic lands, plantations and agricultural areas. The findings show that traditional socio-ecological landscape management is robust and has persisted despite marked ecological and socio-economic changes during the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries, and despite frequent gathering of land management advice from non-Toda. Elements of traditional socio-ecological knowledge that have persisted include prevalent collective traditional decision-making and long-held preferences for a landscape composition with a strong mosaic component. The highly robust nature of Toda socio-ecological culture and land management suggests that the Todas have a valuable role to play in supporting the long-term persistence of the shola-grassland mosaic. Increasing their stewardship role would help conserve this endangered and highly biodiverse ecosystem, while at the same time preserving a unique indigenous culture.