Amazon Forest series (2/3): meet the cross-disciplinary team

December 23, 2022

The team members of the project “Sustainable Management of the Amazon Forest” share their experience from the research project.

The project team. Back row: Bruno, Viviane, Alex, Veronica, Jean. Front row: Patrícia, Tainá, Roksana, Alejandra and Gabriela. Photo: own source

During the fieldwork in October 2022, the team of the “Sustainable management of the Amazon Forest” project consisted of 10 social and natural scientists and students from Linköping University (LiU), the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and the Mamirauá Institute of Sustainable Development (ISDM). The team stayed on a boat where they lived together for several days. In the morning the team split up to do research and, in the evening, they came together to share their experiences of the day, exchange ideas and learn from each other.

The team consisted of Alex Enrich Prast, Jean Carlo de Quadros, Viviane Figueiredo Souza, Tainá Stauffer de Oliveira, Gabriela Cugler de Pontes, Bruno Sergio de Oliveira Silva, Veronica Brodén Gyberg, Alejandra Leon and Patrícia Carvalho Rosa. Roksana Rotter, intern at SweDev, was also part of the team and interviewed the others to get their views on the project.

Closing data gaps about the Amazon forest 

The researchers emphasised that the Amazon Forest is an important ecosystem. Alex, professor of Natural Sciences at LiU and UFRJ explained that the world needs knowledge about rainforests to mitigate climate change, yet there is a lack of data. Nevertheless, since the rainforest has not been prioritized in Brazil in recent years, these kinds of projects are important, Tainá, Senior Researcher of Natural Sciences at UFRJ described. Here in the Amazon, the effects of climate change are visible to everyone through the current extreme drought. As a scientist, she sees the responsibility to record this condition, provide scientific evidence, talk about it and take action to combat climate change.

Solving social and environmental issues through interdisciplinarity

All researchers agreed on the importance of the project due to its interdisciplinarity. Veronica, Senior Lecturer in social sciences at LiU and SweDev member, emphasised that research has shown that narrow disciplinary perspectives do not capture the whole context of a problem. The combination of disciplines leads to more comprehensive results and has the power to solve both social and environmental problems simultaneaously. Patrícia added that the project’s heterogeneous team, consisting of researchers from various disciplines and institutes, from around the world and of different genders, is enriching and complementing the project with the diversity of perspectives and knowledge.

This interdisciplinary work could serve as an example for other projects, Patrícia, Senior Researcher of Social Sciences at ISDM, said. For example, female representation in natural sciences is low Brazil, yet many natural researchers in this team are women. This project can improve this perception, prove the opposite and encourage more women to become scientists. The diversity of team members could also show the relevance of international collaborations to enrich the understanding of other countries and cultures, their systems, problems and possible solutions within the researcher community.

Benefits for communities and their involvement

“When we had the first project in 2017, we had great conclusions, but we were not as aware of people’s needs and realities.”

Tainá Stauffer de Oliveira

For most of the natural scientists in the team, this is the first time they collaborate with social scientists and local communities. Normally, their research only involves vegetation, insects and animals, not people. Bruno, Senior Researcher of Natural Sciences at UFRJ, reflected on the fact that him and his team have previously published scientific results in articles without passing on the knowledge to those communities affected by its results. Now, he sees, that he is “not only working for nature conservation but also for people, for all of us.”

Today, the people in the Mamirauá Reserve are part of the project, and the focus is on their benefit from the project. Gabriela,  PhD student at UFF, stressed the need to “see through their eyes” in order to understand the preconditions for the project’s objectives. The team wants to listen to the views and opinions of the Mamirauá Reserve communities instead of arriving and stating, “this is the solution and it’s good for you”, Viviane, Senior Researcher of Natural Sciences at UFRJ, said. She highlighted that in the end, these communities are the ones who will adapt the strategies and change their existing practices, so we want to ensure their freedom of choice.

Living on the boat during the fieldwork. Photo: own source

Expectations and possible challenges

All scientists emphasised that they expect to learn a lot from the project, both from colleagues and the communities. They also hope to achieve valuable results that will be enriching for those living in the Mamirauá Reserve.

“My main expectation is two kinds of knowledge: scientific and local knowledge through the dialogue between natural and social sciences. At the same time, trying to translate our knowledge to local people in a common and understandable language. This way, people can understand why and how natural changes can affect them. (…) One of the greatest challenges of the project is to actually satisfy communities’ expectations as they want quick answers to complex issues.”

Patrícia Carvalho Rosa

Another mentioned challenge is communication within the team and with communities. Jean, Associated Researcher of Forest Ecology at ISDM, noted that it is difficult for him to explain the knowledge that he takes for granted in a way that others can understand. This might lead to miscommunication.

Thoughts to share with the research community

The researchers highlight the importance of the Amazon and other rainforests, as the whole world depends on their conservation. Not only academics but also stakeholders and financial institutions should open their eyes to the need for basic and applied research in the southern hemisphere, Alex stressed. Further, “Brazil is a country where the forest has not been a  political priority in recent years. This is a challenge for us, but it is also an incentive to do what we do. To continue, not stop and to hope for support from outside in the form of cooperations”, said Patrícia.

That is why collaborations and cooperations like this project are necessary to close the knowledge gaps, provide opportunities for livelihoods and conserve the forest. Even people who are not directly involved in the project can learn from it and see how an interdisciplinary project and the collaboration of people from different backgrounds can represent a way to do science.

“After this field trip, which was challenging, everyone got sick, but it completely pays off. The world needs data and if I am capable to generate this data, I feel obliged to do that.”

Alex Enrich Prast
Fieldwork preperation on the boat. Photo: own source

Written by Roksana Rotter, intern at SweDev. Edited by Alice Tunfjord.