Research

Forest and wildlife management in the northwest Apennines: protecting the interlinked health and well-being of people, animals, and ecosystems

Project background: In recent decades, social and climate changes have altered ecosystems, landscapes, and weather patterns across the world and made it increasingly clear that human, animal, and ecosystem health are deeply intertwined. The Apennine mountains are no exception. Climate changes that have altered local weather patterns, ecosystems, and landscapes have occurred alongside social changes such as rural depopulation and the abandonment of agriculture that have also fundamentally altered the natural environment. Forest cover has expanded and populations of wild animals such as wild boar, deer, and wolves have grown. Agricultural fields and human habitations are in ever-closer proximity to forests creating increased opportunities for contact between wild and domesticated animals and between people and wild animals. This contact includes sightings of wolves close to residences, destruction of agricultural fields by wild boar and porcupine, wolf predation of domesticated animals at pasture, and transmission of infectious diseases between wild and domesticated animals and between, for example, ticks and humans and their domesticated animals. The expansion of wild animal populations and the forested ecosystems they inhabit is having an impact on a range of different stakeholders including farmers, hunters, veterinarians, forest service officers, local government officials, and mountain residents in general, each of whom is being uniquely affected by, and has a unique perspective on, the issue.

Project goals: This project identifies and analyzes diverse stakeholder perspectives on wild animals and forest ecosystems in order to answer two primary sets of questions. The first set of questions is about policy and practice: in the current context of widespread ecosystem and climate change, how should forests and wild animals be managed to meet demands from diverse stakeholders while also contributing to the interlinked health and well-being of humans, animals, plants, and ecosystems? Policy and management interventions tend to be more successful when they consider the needs of local stakeholders. The second set of questions regards the relationship between humans and nature. How do people understand and relate to nature, how do interactions between humans and nature affect human health and well-being, and how are human, animal, and ecosystem health interlinked and interconnected?

Humans, wild animals, forests, and emerging infectious diseases in the Northwest Apennines

African Swine Fever and wild and semi-wild swine farming in the Apennines: farmer perspectives on animal welfare and farm biosecurity

In January 2022, African Swine Fever (ASF) was found in wild boar in the northern Apennines. ASF is a highly contagious viral disease that infects wild and domesticated swine. While it cannot spread to humans, it is incredibly deadly for pigs and wild boar and can easily spread from wild to domesticated swine species. In Italy, wild boar are the current hosts of ASF and forests are the primary habitat of wild boar. Forests abut farmland in the Apennines and managing swine contact with wild boar is essential to controlling ASF spread. ASF poses an imminent threat especially to those farmers who practice the wild or semi-wild swine farming typical of the Apennine mountains.

Farmer behavior and beliefs are important variables in the control of ASF spread and must be understood in order to prepare currently uninfected Apennine areas for the arrival of ASF. This is because social behaviors and ideas about ASF have been shown to play an important role in ASF spread. Understanding the decision-making processes, beliefs and behaviors, understandings of disease, and broader social-ecological context of small-scale swine farming will be essential in the management and control of the disease. The current project therefore examines swine farmer perspectives on the threat posed by ASF, on animal welfare, on farm biosecurity measures, on veterinary practices for controlling ASF, and on the role of wild boar and forest ecosystems in spreading the disease. The goal is to increase animal welfare and farm biosecurity and surveillance in order to prepare farms for the arrival of ASF and protect them against ASF infection. The study will also identify underlying ideas about the relationship between humans and nature that shape farmer beliefs and behavior and examine the links between human, animal, and ecosystem health and well-being in the Apennines.

ASF is a disease that connects: (1) human behavior, (2) wild and domesticated animal behavior, ecology, and biology, (3) ecosystems, and (4) virus epidemiology, molecular biology, and ecology. While this project focuses on human beliefs and behavior related to ASF, it considers them in relation to animals, ecosystems, and the virus itself, and to the larger social, economic, and ecological context of the farms under study.

Interlinked and interconnected: beekeepers, bees, and ecosystems in the Alps and Apennines

Beekeeping, climate and environmental change, and well-being: “Without beekeepers, I’m not sure how well bees could survive in this particular historical moment” (27M, mountain beekeeper). In the face of climate changes that are altering Alpine weather and ecosystems, beekeepers are playing an increasingly important role in keeping honeybees alive. Honeybees are sentinels of change, incredibly vulnerable to alterations to the climate and to ecosystems. Widespread evidence suggests that current changes to weather patterns, ecosystems, and landscapes are affecting honeybee health and survival in many places across the world. Under conditions of change that threaten bees, a beekeeper’s engagement with the surrounding ecosystem and their hive management strategies can contribute to bee health and survival. This project examines beekeeper perceptions of climate and environmental change, beekeeper responses, and the impact of the changes on the interlinked health and well-being of beekeepers, bees, and ecosystems.

Beekeeping and well-being: “Truly a moment of relaxation and well-being!” (28 year old male beekeeper). This project examines how the practice of beekeeping contributes to beekeeper well-being. In research conducted among beekeepers in the Alps, I found that beekeepers experienced emotions and experiences associated with well-being while working with their bees. On-going research among beekeepers in the Apennines is further examining why beekeeping might contribute to well-being and whether climate and ecosystem changes that are affecting bees might decrease the positive effects of beekeeping on well-being.

Climate and Environmental Change in the Apennines

This ongoing project is about how climate and environmental changes are affecting residents of the Apennine Mountains and the Garfagnana region of Northern Tuscany in particular.

Dairy and Livestock Farming in the Garfagnana region of the Apennines

This project is about the challenges and opportunities of dairy and livestock production in Garfagnana today. In the Garfagnana region of the Apennines, farmers raise several unique breeds of livestock including sheep (Razza Ovina Garfagnina Bianca, Massese), goats (Capra della Garfagnana, Camosciata), and cattle (Razza Bovina Garfagnina, Pontremolese, Bruna Alpina, Pezzata Rossa). They produce dairy products include milk, cheese (fresh and aged), yogurt, and dairy based desserts. Milk is either sold directly to consumers, to local dairies, or to large milk processing companies. One farmer sells directly to a local ice cream shop. Otherwise, the milk is transformed into cheese or other dairy products. Some farmers raise cows for meat. The Garfagnina cow, for example, is primarily raised for sale. Meat is sold largely to individual consumers.

The goal of the project is to add-value to the dairy and livestock supply chain in Garfagnana. This includes analyzing the economic realities facing farmers in this area and the existing policy framework that governs the distribution of subsidies. An important part of this analysis is identifying the ecosystem services provided by small-scale farms and identifying how subsidies might be re-designed to better assist small-scale farmers and to ensure their economic survival.

Climate and Environmental Change and Well-being in the Italian Alps

Project background: Individuals across the world are living in ecosystems and landscapes that have been fundamentally altered by climate change within their own lifetimes. This project examines the effects of climate change on the well-being of farmers and beekeepers in two valleys of the central Italian Alps. Over the course of the last several decades, Alpine areas have undergone temperature and precipitation changes at a faster rate than the global average. Although the biogeophysical effects of climate change in the Alps are well-documented, less is known about the impact of climate change on the well-being of those who depend on the natural environment for a living. Through an in-depth study in place, this project identifies the nature and causes behind the local effects of climate change and contextualizes them within their larger sociocultural, political, and historical context. The project employs a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods including interviews, participant observation, questionnaires, and analysis of historical weather and landcover data.

Project findings: Alpine farmers and beekeepers have noticed broad alterations to weather patterns, ecosystems, and landscapes that align with natural science findings of change, but their observations also point to important variability in the local impacts of change even across short distances. In addition, informants identified that social changes, such as the abandonment of agriculture, are profoundly altering Alpine ecosystems and landscapes. Farmers and beekeepers are taking active steps to address current challenges to livelihoods and productivity and to prepare for the future. For many, the climate and social changes elicit feelings of worry, stress, helplessness, and insecurity. For some, changes to the landscape represent an abandonment of traditional mountain values and identity and present a challenge to people’s sense of identity and connection to place and history. Farmers and beekeepers live in complex, intertwined, and interconnected social and ecological systems that shape well-being. Their well-being is linked to ecosystems and landscapes through relations of care, the pursuit of meaningful life projects, facing and overcoming challenges, and connections to place. The project demonstrates that climate change has very specific local impacts. Knowledge of locally specific values and definitions of well-being is crucial for predicting and mitigating the human costs of climate change. 

The project abstract and outline can be found here: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/5999n4729?lo

My presentation on the project can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkF80UHRnxQ

My presentation (in Italian) on Climate change and quality of life in the Lombardy region mountains (Cambiamento climatico e qualità della vita nelle zone montane della Lombardia) can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nz5KkdmYGHk