Mountain Ecology, Remoteness, and the Rise of Agrobiodiversity: Tracing the Geographic Spaces of Human–Environment Knowledge

Karl S. Zimmerer, Hildegardo Córdova-Aguilar, Rafael Mata Olmo, Yolanda Jiménez Olivencia, Steven J. Vanek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


We use an original geographic framework and insights from science, technology, and society studies and the geohumanities to investigate the development of global environmental knowledge in tropical mountains. Our analysis demonstrates the significant relationship between current agrobiodiversity and the elevation of mountain agroecosystems across multiple countries. We use the results of this general statistical model to support our focus on mountain agrobiodiversity. Regimes of the agrobiodiversity knowledge of scientists, government officials, travelers, and indigenous peoples, among others, interacting in mountain landscapes have varied significantly in denoting geographic remoteness. Knowledge representing pre-European mountain geography and diverse food plants in the tropical Andes highlighted their centrality to the Inca Empire (circa 1400–1532). The notion of semiremoteness, geographic valley–upland differentiation, and the similitude-and-difference knowledge mode characterized early Spanish imperial rule (1532–1770). Early modern accounts (1770–1900) amplified the remoteness of the Andes as they advanced global ecological sciences, knowledge standardization, and racial representations of indigenous people as degraded, with scant attention to Andean agriculture and food. Global agrobiodiversity knowledge increasingly drew on corresponding representations of mountain remoteness. Our integration of the biogeophysical–social sciences with the geohumanities reveals distinctive geographies of agrobiodiversity knowledge. Assumed remoteness of mountain agrobiodiversity is not inherent but rather is actively formed in relation to global societies and knowledge systems and is thus relational. Connectivity and claims to territorial and indigenous autonomy distinguish newly emergent characteristics of agrobiodiversity. The multifunctionality and political geography of agrobiodiversity are integral to current mountain environments, societies, and sustainability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)441-455
Number of pages15
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 4 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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