[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT:
Traditional ecological knowledge can be highly informative and integrated with complementary scientific knowledge to improve species management. This is especially true for abundant species with which indigenous peoples have frequent interactions (e.g., through harvest), but has been studied less frequently in isolated or declining species. We examined Maori traditional ecological knowledge of tuatara (Sphenodon spp., reptiles that resemble lizards but are the last living representatives of the order Sphenodontia) through semidirected interviews of elders of Te Atiawa, Ngati Koata, and Ngati Wai Iwi (similar to tribes), the guardians of several islands currently inhabited by tuatara. Maori are indigenous to New Zealand, having settled 800 to 1000 years ago. Tuatara are endemic to New Zealand, have declined in numbers since human settlement, and are now restricted to 37 offshore islands. The detail and volume of tuatara traditional ecological knowledge were less than that recorded in studies of more abundant or accessible species. In addition, traditional knowledge of the cultural significance of tuatara was more common and detailed among the elders than traditional knowledge of tuatara biology or ecology. The traditional knowledge collected, however, provided the first evidence of seven former sites of tuatara occupation, suggested five additional sites tuatara may currently occupy, contained novel hypotheses for scientific testing, and described tuatara cultural roles that have not been reported previously. We conclude that, in at least some cases, traditional ecological knowledge may persist as species decline and may serve as a valuable source of ecological information for conservation.