Existing evidence of conceptual differences in research on climate change perceptions among smallholders? A systematic map


Climate change is having adverse effects on the livelihoods of small-scale populations, particularly in relation to their subsistence practices. Scientific literature widely acknowledges that smallholders must first perceive climate changes to take necessary precautions and adapt to the new conditions. However, variations exist in the terminology used across the literature, and in how it conceptualizes these perceptions. This variation complicates understanding of the literature and hinders empirical evidence comparisons. Therefore, in this review, we systematically mapped the literature considering variations in the concept’s usage across different thematic areas. Our goal was to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of the literature on smallholder climate change perceptions.


In our systematic map, we adhered to the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence guidelines. We searched the literature adopting English terms and using five electronic databases of scientific publications (Web of Science Core Collection, Scopus, BASE–Bielefeld Academic Search Engine, PubMed, and Science Direct Elsevier). We then screened the retrieved articles’ titles, abstracts, and full texts according to predefined eligibility criteria. Articles meeting the eligibility criteria were chosen for full reading, data extraction, and coding, utilizing a prepared codebook. No validity appraisal occurred in this selection. A database containing coded metadata for all studies is accessible for reference.

Review findings

After screening 5358 articles (titles and abstracts), we identified and thoroughly reviewed 361 eligible articles at full text to map the usage of the climate change perception concept. Among these, 73 articles provided explicit definitions of perception, falling into seven categories: risk perception, perception based on psychological constructs and sensory stimuli, awareness, prior experience, observation of climate variables, beliefs, and uncertainties or threats. Implicit definitions of perception with various constructs were found, including those rooted in Cognitive Psychology, awareness, risk perception, traditional knowledge, beliefs, concerns about climate change, experiences of exposure to its effects, attitudes, worldviews, and scientific knowledge. Articles usually address multiple topics. Notably, 88% of the articles did not present any theory throughout their content. Geographically, Africa and Asia were the most frequently studied continents, with more focus on non-indigenous small-scale populations than indigenous ones.


In conclusion, the perception concept exhibits an interdisciplinary nature. Therefore, fostering continuous dialogue among diverse disciplines is imperative to establishing an interdisciplinary definition of the term. An in-depth understanding of the perception concept is essential, as its absence can result in erroneous conclusions, limited adaptation strategies, and a lack of awareness among small-scale populations regarding climate change impacts. Misconceptions about this concept can lead to ineffective policies, further endangering vulnerable populations. Defining the concept and its constructs facilitates article comparisons. Without this definition, meaningful comparisons become unfeasible. Moreover, the absence of proper perception definitions poses challenges for small-scale populations, researchers, and stakeholders in developing effective, efficient, and flexible adaptations over time. Perception is the first step in incorporating adaptation strategies and must be translated into policies to address climate change impacts efficiently.


Climate change awareness, Climate change communication, Climatic variability, Global warming, Indigenous people, Public perception, Smallholders, Small-scale societies, Risk perception



Climate change is affecting small-scale populations worldwide. Evidence of adverse effects has been reported for smallholders’ agriculture, hunting, fishing, and gathering products from natural ecosystems (non-timber forest products). To take precautions or deal with such problems (i.e. to adapt), smallholders need to perceive climatic changes. Acknowledging this need, the literature on this topic is vast. Despite that, authors adopt alternative concepts of climate change perception, which may hinder comparisons of results across studies. Hence, the review team aim to systematically map the literature usage of the climate change perception concept.


This systematic map will follow the CEE guidelines and conform to the Reporting Standards for Systematic Evidence form. The review team will rely on five electronic databases of scientific publications—Scopus, Web of Science Core Collection, BASE—Bielefeld Academic Search Engine, Science Direct Elsevier and PubMed—with pre-tested search terms only in English. Publications will be filtered through the “articles only” and “English language” selections. Titles, abstracts, and full texts will then be screened using pre-defined eligibility criteria, including small-scale and indigenous populations inhabiting rural areas, as well as presenting explicitly or implicitly the concept of climate change perception. From articles meeting the eligibility criteria, the review team will extract and encode the data while selecting the full texts for reading. The review team will use a codebook pre-elaborated for encoding. No critical appraisal of study validity will be undertaken. Finally, a database with coded metadata of all studies in the map will be made available. The review team will present the evidence in a report map with text, figures, and tables, besides a catalogue of all identified perception definitions.