Broadly, my research addresses questions of social-ecological system (SES) complexity, the emergence of sociocultural and biophysical elements within SESs, and the interactive processes linking these elements, but from the unique, and often neglected, perspective of the people living within these complex systems. My expertise lies in the study of local environmental knowledge (LEK), also referred to as traditional or indigenous knowledge, and how this knowledge is used to sustain livelihoods and households in rural southern and east Africa. I am interested in how people use their LEK, grounded in multi-scalar, historic and contemporary political, economic, and cultural contexts, to respond and adapt to on-going social and ecological changes, and how their actions, in turn, change the environment. As an ecological anthropologist, I continue a tradition of innovative and interdisciplinary research that is data-grounded but ethnographic, and complementary to work done by colleagues on systems modelling, land use and resource management and conservation, and climate change resilience. Recently, my interests have expanded to think about LEK in the US context; where and how we learn LEK, differences in LEK based on personal experiences/surrounding culture/access to nature, and how we use our LEK. My research deepens our theoretical understanding of human contributions to, and maintenance of, the biodiversity and ecosystem services upon which all life depends. In the Anthropocene, this knowledge is increasingly important as we approach planetary limits of land use and freshwater scarcity, and mitigate those boundaries already crossed like biodiversity loss and global climate change. In the applied arena, my work addresses issues of household well-being, resource management and governance, species conservation, human-wildlife conflict, and adaptation to global climate change.

Dr. Shaffer is also the Faculty Advisor for ENSP Culture and Environment, for more information on the concentration please visit:

ORCID: 0000-0002-0635-0576  

Selected Publications: (*indicates student advisee)







In the news:



Areas of Interest

  • Ethnoecology/Local Environmental Knowledge; Social-Ecological Systems; Conservation; Climate Change; Rural Livelihoods; Food and Water Security; Adaptation to Environmental Change; Resilience; Vulnerability; Historical Ecology
  • Social Network Analysis; Citizen Science; Savanna & Coastal Communities; Southern & Eastern Africa incl. Mozambique, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania
CV: Shaffer CV.3.2023.pdf220.69 KB


  • Degree Type
    Degree Details
    Anthropology (Ecological & Environmental Anthropology), 2009 – University of Georgia, Athens, GA
  • Degree Type
    Degree Details
    Environmental Studies (Biology; Geography; Planning, Public Policy & Management), 1999 – University of Oregon, Eugene, OR
  • Degree Type
    Degree Details
    Biology (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology) cum laude, 1994 – Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Former Students

  • Wolford, Olivia
  • Michaelis, Adriane
  • Bassett, Maeve
    San Antonio Botanical Gardens
  • Blair, Kayleigh
  • McDonald, Kevin
  • Mittmann, Helen
  • Tompkins, Jordan
  • Nutter, Alyssa
  • Alberda, Rebecca

Related Students (Listed by Student on Student's Profile)

  • Maeve Bassett
  • Kaleigh Blair
  • Keeli Otto
  • Jess Staggs
  • Salvador Valdez-Ono
  • Olivia Wolford
Shaffer, Jen
2101P Woods Hall
Department of Anthropology
lshaffe1 [at]