Birdwatchers in Latin America and the Caribbean call for breaking down barriers

Banded Cotinga, barriers

The field of ornithology routinely excludes scholars and research from Latin America and the Caribbean, according to an article published February 7 in the Ornithological applications.

The document, signed by 124 ornithologists (including professional scientists, naturalists, park rangers and technicians) from 19 countries, also explains what the sector should do to begin to address the identified issues.

According to the document, a major obstacle to the progress of ornithology is the marginalization of researchers from countries of the South, that is to say from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and most of the world. ‘Asia. Latin America and the Caribbean is home to 3,700 bird species in habitats ranging from lowland tropical rainforest to the high Andes. It also includes more than 40 countries and a human population comparable to that of Europe. Yet the authors argue that peer-reviewed science from the South is being overlooked by northern birders, a practice that stems from a long history of colonialism that scientists continue to sweep under the proverbial rug.

“Foreign scientists undoubtedly contribute to the development of Neotropical ornithology, but the exclusion of the Latin American and Caribbean scientific community is a long-standing pattern deeply rooted in the scientific colonialism of the 19th and 20th centuries,” says the document. “Today, it is still common for high-impact analyzes, proposals and research papers focused on the Neotropics to overlook the region’s contributions, perspectives and goals, often overlooking important developments and key obstacles to the advancement of knowledge. This pattern is visible not only in neotropical ornithology, but also in all academic disciplines and in the countries of the South.

Impacts on researchers — and on birds

The article explains that linguistic hegemony, publication costs, and northern views of what is new prevent many excellent ornithologists from publishing in journals with global reach and greatly reduce the extent to which their work is cited.

The authors noted that reviewers and editors rarely ask scholars from Europe, Canada, or the United States to translate, learn, or cite theories and case studies from Latin America or Africa, but they generally expect scholars from the Global South to oversee their work. the context of research in Europe or North America.

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The article argues that such systemic barriers are not only unfair to researchers in the Global South; they also harm ornithological scholarship and bird conservation. Scientific rigor, the authors emphasize, is not simply the sum of individually rigorous research papers, but an emergent property of a body of complementary studies from a diversity of regions and perspectives. For example, patterns of sexual behavior and nest orientation of birds, originally thought to be global, proved valid only in the northern hemisphere when researchers included data from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Why Native Bird Names Matter

The authors added that the geographic and cultural richness of ornithological knowledge and conceptualizations of birds is inherent even in bird names. Indigenous peoples and other communities in Latin America tend to name birds based on their behavior, vocalizations, or the time of year they are present, reflecting both their knowledge of their ecology and a method unambiguous species identification (calls and songs). By contrast, their English names, and increasingly their Spanish derivatives, reflect broad and often ambiguous taxonomic categories, general geographic location, or the appearance of museum specimens, which are not always helpful and may even be misleading. during identification in the field.

For example, in Mapuzungun, the language of the Mapuche people of south-central Chile and west-central Argentina, kuchag refers to a bird “that leaves waste after eating”. Its English name, Patagonian Sierra Finch, refers to the region where it is found and its taxonomy. Similarly, in Mapuzungun, thread-thread is one of several song-based names for the bird known in English as the White-crested Elaenia.

The authors argue that ornithologists – both North and South – have set back their own field by suppressing the rich and nuanced ornithological knowledge of indigenous peoples and other communities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Fighting against colonialism in science

The authors of the article recognize that there is no easy recipe for eliminating all the scientific injustices that result from centuries of colonialism, but they encourage all scientists to notice, question and interrupt the systems that perpetuate hierarchies. class, race, gender. , and geography.

“We recognize that some of the terms commonly used in the literature on scientific colonialism will be uncomfortable for some readers,” the authors write. “However, we believe that this malaise is a necessary step in confronting the history of our discipline (and our own participation in that history), so that we can grow and change as researchers and institutions. »

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To begin to address the long legacy of colonialism in science, they suggest that scholars around the world be sure to read and cite the work of countries in the Global South, especially that of Indigenous, Black and Brown women. They propose that institutions adopt new policies and evaluation criteria that encourage researchers to move away from hierarchical positions and support collective leadership that includes people outside academia.

The authors urge journals with global reach to maintain or create free or low-cost publishing options, to provide the option of a submission and review process in Spanish, and to ensure that articles on birds of America Latin and Caribbean include full participation. of authors from the region, from the design of the study to the interpretation of the results. They also propose that ornithological journals with global reach adjust their publication criteria to publish all scientifically sound and ethically rigorous ornithological research submitted by first authors based in Latin America or the Caribbean, including negative results and articles on basic biology.

The basics are in place

The foundations for such change are already in place: ornithology in Latin America and the Caribbean is now supported by regional institutions, conservation programs and a rapidly growing group of students, professionals and non-academics. based in this region, who creatively propel the discipline. Today, local and government-funded research, scientific societies, universities, scientific collections, non-governmental organizations, community science projects, international collaborations, and contributions from independent naturalists, bird clubs, tour guides, environmental licensing studies, indigenous communities, and park rangers make ornithological research possible in the Neotropics.

“Colonialism still has profound impacts on our society, whether people feel comfortable with it or not,” said Letícia Soares of Saint Louis University, one of the publication’s lead authors. “We (Neotropics scholars) often apply colonialist perspectives. Field biology has a very strong stereotype that pioneers are white European men. Breaking this narrative should be a commitment from everyone on the ground. We can then walk towards recognition, justice and reconciliation, both in ornithology and in other field sciences.

The open access document,Neotropical Ornithology: Considering Historical Assumptions, Removing Systemic Barriers, and Reimagining the Future,” is available here.

Thanks to Oxford University Press for this news.

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