Primary Investigators: Professor Piran White, Dr Joshua Kirshner, Dr Julia Touza, Dr Adrián Villaseñor-Lopez (Department of Environment and Geography, University of York); Professor Henrice Altink, Dr Sabine Clarke, Dr Hanne Cottyn, Dr Helen Cowie (Department of History, University of York); Dr Colin Beale, Professor Jane Hill, Dr Chris Wheatley (Department of Biology, University of York)
External Collaborators: University of Cambridge, Universidad del Rosario, Universidad de los Andes, Humboldt Institute, The Nature Conservancy (Colombia), Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Funder: NERC and AHRC (Newton-Caldas Fund Colombia Bio programme)
In common with many upland systems throughout the world, the Andean páramos are under increasing pressure from social, climate and land use changes. The history of the páramo is fundamental in understanding these pressures and identifying possible solutions. For the Muisca people and for many páramo inhabitants today, páramos are sacred places from where the gods came that controlled water and the origin and maintenance of life. To European colonists, páramos were seen as the source of abundant mineral riches. More recently, the critical importance of páramos in providing fresh water to the growing urban populations of Colombia and supporting unique biodiversity have come to the fore. These competing pressures are placing increasingly diverse demands on the system, and, despite a number of initiatives both nationally and internationally, tensions over the management and governance of the system persist.
Our project will investigate how an integrated environmental-historical understanding of páramo ecosystem patterns, processes and pressures can provide insights to new governance solutions. We will take a 500-year historical perspective to analyse changes in the socio-ecological system of páramos over time, focusing on the central role of human-nature interactions and how these have changed in response to differing social, political and cultural contexts, over time periods from decades to centuries. We will consider how these changes have impacted on ecosystem dynamics, and predict what further changes are likely to occur in the future under climate and other drivers of change. We will explore how human-nature relationships in páramo landscapes have changed and compare the perspectives of local communities with other private and state actors. We will identify the potential for páramo communities to obtain monetary values from páramos and the ecosystem services they provide, examining the synergies and trade-offs between different ecosystem services.
Our research will provide a unique historical context for the development of future governance options, including new partnerships between different stakeholders underpinned by greater social and cultural understanding. The project will deliver recommendations for mechanisms to promote more sustainable and equitable futures for páramo landscapes, in the context of key political and social challenges such as post-conflict displacement, illegal mining, changing climate and increasing water demand from urbanization.