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Socio-ecological Resilience in the Heart of Hutsulshchyna: Centering Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) through Translational Ecology


This dissertation explores socio-ecological resilience in Hutsulshchyna, the home of Hutsul communities in the southeastern ridge of Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine and Romania. Hutsuls are an ethnographic group of traditional, pastoral highlanders, who share a deep, extensive history of ethnobotanical knowledge and resulting TEK, grounding culture to place within the landscape. Given ecosystem, climatic, and cultural challenges, including illegal logging, pollution, and increased frequencies of flooding, Hutsuls face extensive challenges to maintaining socio-ecological resilience in the region; I ask: To what extent does traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) in forest-dependent, Hutsul communities in Ukraine nurture cultural ties to landscape, maintain health of communities, and inform adaptive capacity in supporting regional food sovereignty? I take a translational approach in collaboration with Hutsul scientists and community members, focusing on specific culturally important species (108 taxa), and their habitats within larger landscapes (toloka, forest, pasture, alpine area, polonyna, field, road, garden, meadow, and woodland). Given the abundance of socially linked environmental problems governing our global climate, it is urgent that ecologists consider the direct policy impacts of their research and consider translational ecology, as a methodological approach.

The first chapter explores five dimensions of resilience-building inherent in the translational approach of my dissertation research, which include: 1) communication and engagement, 2) policy, 3) education, 4) knowledge creation, and 5) personal actions. In the second chapter, we* contextualize the role and importance of ethnobotany (specifically medicinal use) in the day-to-day lives of Hutsul communities in Hutsulshchyna by identifying 108 taxa and quantifying various ethnobotanical indices of cultivated and wild culturally important species (plants, fungi, and lichens). Through qualitative methodologies, we find that accessibility to land, availability of species and TEK are critically impacted by environmental challenges, ultimately influencing ecological succession, and gathering practices of culturally important species found in a diversity of habitats. In the third chapter, we explore short-term (coping mechanisms), and long-term (adaptive strategies) responses that mitigate disturbances and support adaptive capacity in Hutsulshchyna. TEK informs these responses, providing a critical foundation for supporting food sovereignty as seen through traditional foods. Overall, this collaborative work underlines the critical necessity of employing a translational approach to interdisciplinary, ecological research that center Hutsul voices, choices, and TEK to inform regional policymaking.

*While I (Nina Fontana) am the author of this dissertation, this entire dissertation was developed with, supported by, and included Hutsul community members. It would not exist without their collaboration.

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