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Year : 2009  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 100-112

The Intersections of Biological Diversity and Cultural Diversity: Towards Integration

1 University of Essex, Colchester CO4 3SQ, United Kingdom
2 University of Cambridge, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom
3 University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada
4 University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA
5 Equilibrium, United Kingdom
6 University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
7 Terralingua, United Kingdom
8 Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, Northern, Ireland
9 EcoHealth Consulting, United Kingdom
10 University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA
11 American Museum of Natural History, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York, USA
12 University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California, USA
13 Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester CO4 3SQ, United Kingdom

Correspondence Address:
Sarah Pilgrim
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester CO4 3SQ
United Kingdom
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.58642

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Date of Web Publication2-Jan-2010


There is an emerging recognition that the diversity of life comprises both biological and cultural diversity. In the past, however, it has been common to make divisions between nature and culture, arising partly out of a desire to control nature. The range of interconnections between biological and cultural diversity are reflected in the growing variety of environmental sub-disciplines that have emerged. In this article, we present ideas from a number of these sub-disciplines. We investigate four bridges linking both types of diversity (beliefs and worldviews, livelihoods and practices, knowledge bases and languages, and norms and institutions), seek to determine the common drivers of loss that exist, and suggest a novel and integrative path forwards. We recommend that future policy responses should target both biological and cultural diversity in a combined approach to conservation. The degree to which biological diversity is linked to cultural diversity is only beginning to be understood. But it is precisely as our knowledge is advancing that these complex systems are under threat. While conserving nature alongside human cultures presents unique challenges, we suggest that any hope for saving biological diversity is predicated on a concomitant effort to appreciate and protect cultural diversity.

Keywords: biodiversity, conservation, cultural diversity, culture, nature, policy, sub-disciplines

How to cite this article:
Pretty J, Adams B, Berkes F, de Athayde S, Dudley N, Hunn E, Maffi L, Milton K, Rapport D, Robbins P, Sterling E, Stolton S, Tsing A, Vintinnerk E, Pilgrim S. The Intersections of Biological Diversity and Cultural Diversity: Towards Integration. Conservat Soc 2009;7:100-12

How to cite this URL:
Pretty J, Adams B, Berkes F, de Athayde S, Dudley N, Hunn E, Maffi L, Milton K, Rapport D, Robbins P, Sterling E, Stolton S, Tsing A, Vintinnerk E, Pilgrim S. The Intersections of Biological Diversity and Cultural Diversity: Towards Integration. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2009 [cited 2021 Oct 24];7:100-12. Available from: https://www.conservationandsociety.org.in//text.asp?2009/7/2/100/58642

   Introduction Top

Human societies have interacted with nature for thousands of generations (Balιe 1994; Norgaard 1994; Denevan 2001; Toledo 2001; Maffi 2001; Gunderson& Holling 2002; Harmon 2002; Heckenberger et al. 2007). This is reflected in all cultures by long histories of regimes and rules to protect or preserve natural places, and often manifests in the form of sacred sites, national parks, nature reserves and community conserved areas. Community conserved areas constitute the oldest form of protected area, and include sites such as sacred groves and community managed commons (Stevens 1997; Kothari 2006; Schaaf& Lee 2006; Turner& Berkes 2006). Today, there is an emerging recognition that the diversity of life comprises both living forms (biological diversity) and human beliefs, values, worldviews and cosmologies (cultures) (Posey 1999; Berkes et al. 2000; Maffi 2001; Harmon 2002). Nonetheless, the division commonly made between nature and culture is not universal, and in many societies has been borne from our need to manage and control nature.

Previously, connections between biological and cultural diversity have often been considered separately from one another (Maffi 1998; Berkes 2001; Dudley et al. 2006). In this article, we take an integrative approach, combining ideas from many different sub-disciplines. We investigate four bridges linking biological and cultural diversity, seek to determine the common drivers of loss that exist, and suggest a novel pathway towards integration. Cultures exist in many different contexts today, for instance in science, policy and business, and by no means are all cultural ideas and practices good for nature. However, this article focuses on cultural arrangements (largely of resource-dependent communities) that do have positive synergies with nature, and how these synergies can be actively fostered for the future.

   Why do Cultural Diversity and Biological Diversity Matter ? Top

Importance of Biological Diversity

Biological diversity is defined as the variation of life at the levels of genes, species and ecosystems (CBD 1992). Much has been written on the importance of biological diversity in terms of its intrinsic value, its anthropocentric uses (in terms of goods and services provided), its role in markets, and its political origins and uses (Takacs 1996; Constanza et al. 1997; Gunderson& Holling 2002; MEA 2005). Ecosystem health refers to the extent to which complex ecosystems maintain their function in the face of disturbance. This resilience is an essential precondition to sustainable livelihoods, human health and other social objectives, as reflected in the Millennium Development Goals (MEA 2005; Rapport 2006). Biological diversity is the key to ecosystem health, as it serves as an absorptive barrier, providing protection from environmental shocks and stresses (Stolton et al. 2008).

Importance of Cultural Diversity

Cultures are complex and have the capacity to change rapidly, emerging as well as dying out in both industrialised and pre-industrialised contexts. In the same way that biological diversity underpins the resilience of natural systems, cultural diversity has the capacity to increase the resilience of social systems (Maffi 1998; Gunderson& Holling 2002; Harmon 2002). Cultural diversity is the diversity of human cultures, where a culture can be defined as "the system of shared symbols, behaviours, beliefs, values, norms, artefacts and institutions that the members of a society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning" (Brey 2007). However, a culture holds more than just a utilitarian function as indicated here. Smith (2001) captures this in his definition of cultural change as "a form of co-evolution between cultural information and the social and natural environment". This depicts a culture to be a complex and intrinsic system of interlinked components that contribute to an individual's identity by representing relationships with the surrounding environment. Thus a culture is neither static nor tenable, but rather represents elements that lead to the distinctiveness of a group or society.

The maintenance of cultural diversity into the future, and the knowledge, innovations and outlooks it contains, increases the capacity of human systems to adapt to change (Maffi 1998; Gunderson& Holling 2002; Harmon 2002). Different cultures interact with nature in different ways and forge different relationships with their local environments (Milton 1998; Berkes 2008). We now consider these interactions and how they bridge the modernist separation of nature and culture.

The Emergence of New Sub-Disciplines

A wide variety of environmental sub-disciplines have emerged to address the interconnections between biological and cultural diversity ([Table 1]; Annex A). Core social science disciplines have developed terms to describe different subfields of environmental conservation, such as environmental or ecological anthropology, environmental politics, ecological economics and environmental history (Kates et al. 2001; Clark& Dickson 2003; Rapport 2006; Dove& Carpenter 2008). Some help to explore bridges between different disciplines, particularly between the natural and social sciences, and so give rise to many combinations of theories, assumptions, methods and applications (Mascia et al. 2003; Berkes 2004; Mascia 2006).

By being non-integrative and autonomous, these sub-disciplines may lead to a lack of coordination between the advancement of scientific knowledge and the development of national and international policies drawn up to protect 1 cultural and biological capital. This article seeks to go beyond potentially divisive definitions and demonstrate that most of these fields are working towards a very similar end (Rapport 2006). This is to formulate ideas on the relationship between biological and cultural systems in the hope of achieving a sustainable future where both ecological and social systems are resilient to external pressures through the maintenance of diversity (Rapport 2006). Here, we explore the multiple ways in which biological and cultural systems intersect and then how global policy could use this as the basis for a combined approach to diversity conservation, thus reducing the gap between science and policy in practice (Kates et al. 2001; Clark and Dickson 2003).

   Convergence of Biological and Cultural Diversity Top

Nature and culture converge on many levels that span values, beliefs, norms, livelihoods, knowledge and languages (Milton 1998; Posey 1999; Turner& Berkes 2006; Berkes 2008). The natural environment provides a setting for cultural processes, activities and belief systems to develop, and subsequently, landscapes form a diverse cultural archive of human endeavours (Adams 1996; Milton 1999; Schaaf& Lee 2006; Berkes 2008). As a result of these interconnections, a feedback system exists, whereby a shift in one system often leads to a change in the other (Berkes& Folke 2002; Maffi& Woodley 2007; Pretty 2007a).

The links between cultural and biological diversity are reflected in physical convergence. Many of the world's core areas of biodiversity are also important for cultural diversity, represented by the density of ethnic groups 2 and linguistic diversity (frequently used as proxies for cultural diversity) (Skutnabb-Kangas et al. 2003; Sutherland 2003). Early observations of this geographical association were made by a number of researchers working in the field, including Nietschmann (1992), Nabhan (1997) and Stevens (1997). Chapin (1992), in particular, pioneered this area by mapping forest cover and indigenous homelands in Central America (1992). Groups like Terralingua and WWF took his ideas forward by conducting projects that attempted to map these physical associations on a global scale and identify diversity hotspots. Here we assess four bridges linking nature with culture; beliefs and worldviews, livelihoods and practices, knowledge bases and languages, and norms and institutions.

Humans Place in Nature: Beliefs, Meanings and Worldviews

Human communities have many different ways to interpret the world around them (Geertz 1973; Milton 1998; Posey 1999; Pretty 2007a). These meanings and interpretations are most diverse in their relationships to the natural world, with the most conspicuous links seen in indigenous and non-industrialised communities (Pilgrim et al. 2007, 2008). Not only do many of these communities interact with biological diversity on a daily basis, but their ever-evolving values, knowledge and perceptions strongly centre on nature (Berkes 2008). It has been suggested that the ongoing difference in the cultural cosmologies of nature, between pre- or non-industrialised and industrialised communities, stems from a difference in need and purpose (Milton 1998; Berkes 2001). The former are more likely to view themselves as interdependent components of nature, whereas the latter tend to view themselves as separate from and even dominant over nature (Berkes, 2008). Clearly, human communities are too complex to be divided between these two extremes, but they do form a spectrum along which different human societies are positioned. A range of authors have explored this spectrum (Posey 1999; Berkes 2008).

Milton (1998) suggests that human communities can be divided according to the strength of their feeling of oneness with nature. Those that feel a weak sense of connection perceive humans as separate from nature. However, those feeling a strong sense recognise no distinction between nature and culture, instead they comprise one continuous system and the relationship is so intrinsic that it goes unspoken (Milton 1998; Berkes 2004). The Dogrib Dene of NW Canada, for example, use the term ndι to describe the land, however, this word conveys a deeper interaction between all ecosystem components (biotic and abiotic) based on the perception that they all have life and spirit (Berkes 2008).

Ellen (1996) proposed that just three definitions of nature exist in the modern industrialised cosmos: nature as a category of 'things', nature as space which is not human, and nature as an inner essence (Milton, 1998). Some authors today believe that modernist views have gone beyond viewing nature and culture as separate entities and instead view them as opposing entities whose interaction generally leads to one or the other being damaged in some way (Milton, 1998). Wilson, on the other hand, conjectures that all humans have an innate connection with nature based on our common histories as hunters-gatherers (Kellert& Wilson 1993). His "biophilia hypothesis" may explain why the connection is more conspicuous today in communities that retain a direct dependence upon nature, although many people in industrialised countries still acknowledge a spiritual or affective relationship with nature and the outdoors (Milton 1999). This idea is supported by recent evidence showing that exposure to nature has a positive effect on physical and mental health (Pretty 2004, 2007a; Pretty et al. 2005, 2006, 2007a).

Goodin's green theory of value (1992) suggests that all humans need some sense and pattern in their lives, and nature provides the backdrop against which this can occur. It sets human lives in a larger context and explains why non-human nature is often considered sacred, as demonstrated by sacred groves in India, tambu in Papua New Guinea and other sacred designations of land and water (Milton 1999; Schaaf& Lee 2006; Smith et al. 2007). Many protected areas (national parks or reserves) are, or contain, sacred natural sites (Dudley et al. 2006). They are often selected as protected areas precisely because local communities have set them aside for spiritual reasons and as a result created a refuge for a diversity of species (Mascia 2006). Long established protected areas that are widely visited and admired can acquire quasi-spiritual values (Eg., related to a sense of beauty or wildness) (Adams 1996; Milton 1999; Berkes 2008). This emphasises the importance of place and is reflected in the growing interest in bioregionalism and even suggestions of anti-globalisation (Adams 1996; Pretty 2007a).

Attitudes within faiths are another manifestation of different interpretations of our relationship with nature. The three large monotheistic faiths arising from the Middle East (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have in the past taught that humans have "dominion" over nature, whereas faiths such as Hinduism and Buddhism stress the inter-relationships between humans and the rest of nature. A reinterpretation of the meaning of dominion in this context is quietly being undertaken among many faith groups (Dudley et al. 2006).

Managing Nature: Livelihoods, Practices and Resource Management Systems

Many scholars perceive landscapes to be a product of the connection between people and a place; they are spaces which people feel they have a relationship with, and of which they hold memories and build history (Adams 1996; Pretty 2007a). Human populations have shaped these physically through the direct selection of plants and animals and the reworking of whole habitats and ecosystems (Sauer 1925; Pretty 2007b). Such landscapes have been described as anthropogenic or cultural, and their composition, be it of introduced species, agricultural monocultures or genetically modified crops, a reflection of local culture and human history (Milton 1999). Hence Adams describes nature as a "cultural archive, a record of human endeavour and husbandry" (Milton 1999).

The widespread role of cultural activities in shaping nature has led to non-human or near-pristine nature being viewed as sacred (Callicott& Nelson 1998). Growing archaeological and ethnographic knowledge, however, has demonstrated that many habitats previously thought to be pristine result from resource dependent livelihood practices. Consequently, most landscapes today are considered to be anthropogenic having been shaped directly or indirectly by human activities. The only possible exceptions being the extremes of the poles or the depths of the oceans, although global climate change is now bringing this assertion into question. Human dominance is acknowledged in the naming of this geological era as the "anthropocene" (Pretty et al. 2007a). This has led, among other things, to sharp debates about the use of the term "wilderness" to refer to undeveloped biodiverse land (Callicott& Nelson 1998).

Although pre- and non-industrialised human cultures may have a lesser ecological footprint, they are still significant in moulding landscapes (Callicott& Nelson 1998; Milton 1999; Berkes 2008). Many have learnt, however, to utilise and alter the landscape with some level of conscious or unconscious restraint, ensuring natural resource security for their communities in the future (Stevens 1997; Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2004; Kothari 2006). Such self-limiting practices have been central to the survival of resource-dependent societies and their landscapes (Callicott& Nelson 1998). Today, many scientists and policy-makers are learning a great deal from these diverse cultural practices and now acknowledge the role that local practices can play in biodiversity conservation, particularly in little known ecosystems and where state-imposed management schemes have failed (Posey 1984, 1985; CBD 1992; Veitayaki 1997).

This 'new' form of resource management by which local communities and their established practices play a central role is often termed community-based conservation. Sites managed under these conditions are termed Community Conserved Areas or Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs). The latter are now considered a form of protected area recognised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) (Western and Wright 1994; Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2004; Kothari 2006; Turner& Berkes 2006; Smith et al. 2007; Pilgrim et al. 2008). That is not to say that all activities and practices developed locally lead to biodiverse outcomes, or that poor management does not occur, but the worldviews of many pre- and non-industrialised societies have contributed to the development of practices and skills that sustainably manage ecological integrity (Redford 1992; Diamond 2005; Nepstad et al. 2006; Turner& Berkes 2006). Thus, the loss of one (e.g. local knowledge and practices) could result in a concomitant loss of the other (e.g. ecological integrity), and although replacement will occur, it is unlikely to be as complex or refined.

Knowledge About Nature:

Knowledge Bases and Languages

If diverse cultural practices and worldviews are central to the management of biological diversity, this supports the need to consider the dynamic knowledge bases upon which these practices and worldviews are based (Posey 1999; Maffi 2001, 2005; Harmon 2002). Knowledge of nature is accumulated within a society and transferred through cultural modes of transmission, such as stories, narratives and observations, as people travel through the landscape (Pilgrim et al. 2007, 2008; Pretty 2007a). It, therefore, comprises of a non-static compilation of observations and understandings contained within social memory that constantly evolve to try and make sense of the way the world behaves, and which societies can use to guide their actions towards the natural world. Berkes (2008), describes this as a "knowledge-belief-practice" complex that is central to linking nature with culture.

The importance of local ecological knowledge to resource management has been well described in recent years and has been a key theme of cultural ecology for decades (Berkes et al. 2000; Gadgil et al. 2000; Gilchrist et al. 2005; Pilgrim et al. 2007, 2008; Berkes 2008). Cultural understanding of the environment can not only give rise to sustainable management practices, but also to in-depth knowledge about species requirements, ecosystem dynamics, sustainable harvesting levels and ecological interactions (Pilgrim et al. 2007, 2008). If sustained through stories, ceremonies and discourses, this culturally ingrained capital can enable people to live within the constraints of their environment in the long-term, without the need for catastrophic learning in the event of major resource depletion (Turner& Berkes, 2006). It can therefore be viewed as a form of cultural insurance (Skutnabb-Kangas et al. 2003).

Languages encode collective knowledge bases in a way that is often non-translatable, but links its speakers to their landscape inextricably. In this way, language can be described as a resource for nature (Maffi 1998). As a result of this, a growing body of literature exists on the interlinkages between linguistic, cultural and biological diversity (Maffi 1998, 2005; Skutnabb-Kangas et al. 2003). However, diverse languages and knowledge bases are threatened today by the dual erosion of biological and cultural diversity (Maffi 1998).

Culture as Institutions: Norms and Regulations

Local knowledge bases give rise to socially embedded norms and institutions (Feit 1988; Agrawal& Gibson 1999; Rudd et al. 2003; Smith et al. 2007). These contextual systems of collective action are intimately linked to the land on which they are based, and subsequently, are enormously diverse (Stevens 1997; Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2004; Ostrom 2005; Kothari 2006). They comprise informal institutional frameworks that are legitimated from within communities and may include location-specific rules on resource extraction limits, zoning of harvesting areas, and appropriate behaviours for the use and management of natural resources (Stevens 1997; Pretty 2003; Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2004; Cinner et al. 2005; Ostrom 2005; Kothari 2006; Smith et al., 2007). Often known as land tenure systems, these frameworks regulate the use of private and common property in many parts of the world (Turner& Berkes 2006).

Where land tenure systems are robust, they can maintain the productivity and diversity of social and ecological systems without the need for formal legal enforcement sanctions (Smith et al. 2007). Community compliance is derived from shared values and internally derived community sanctions, such as moral influence from elders, particularly where land is perceived to be a common property (Cinner et al. 2005). In these communities, compliance is believed to be in the best interests of society as a whole or the best guarantee for sustaining individual and family interests in the long-term (Dietz et al. 2003). Formalised payment mechanisms have been suggested as tools to reinforce these norms and reward traditional societies for the diversity of environmental goods and services their ways of life provide. For instance, Costa Rica and Mexico have reduced forest loss by the use of payments for environmental services (PES) to landowners and communities (Pagiola& Platais 2002; Pagiola et al. 2005; Zbinden& Lee 2005).

Human cultures attribute meaning to natural systems and processes in various ways, including livelihoods, cosmologies, worldviews and spiritual beliefs (Berkes 2008). These cultural understandings fundamentally govern both individual and collective actions which, in turn, shape the nature and composition of landscapes (Milton 1999; Smith et al. 2007). However, this evolving web of interconnections means that cultural and biological diversity are frequently eroded by the same drivers and threats.

   Common Threats and Their Consequences Top

There have been unparalleled losses in biological and cultural diversity in recent decades (Maffi 2001; McNeely& Scherr 2001; Skutnabb-Kangas et al. 2003; MEA 2005; Rapport 2006; Pretty et al. 2007b; Pilgrim et al. 2008), arising from a number of common drivers [Table 2]. Threats include the culturally inappropriate modernisation of services such as healthcare and education. This can lead to language erosion, decrease in cultural knowledge transfer and a shift in local knowledge bases, and less time spent experiencing nature with community elders and family members (Pilgrim et al. 2007). Privatisation of lands, exclusion policies and urban migration create a shift away from traditional resource management, often at the cost of biodiversity. This also leads to the erosion of place-based cultures as they are physically separated from the lands that their beliefs and worldviews are centred upon. Stories, narratives, ceremonies and rituals all lose their meaning when placed out of context, often leading to cultural collapse (Samson 2003).

The globalisation of traditional food systems is causing a decline in biodiversity, as monocultures are favoured over farm and wild diversity. This, in turn, leads to the loss of ecological knowledge including skills and practices developed and refined locally (Samson& Pretty 2006). Livelihood diversification and resource commodification are threatening global diversity by causing a departure from cultural resource use and management practices, the loss of land-based livelihoods and the local knowledge they are based upon (Chambers& Conway 1992; DFID 1999; Ellis 1999; Pilgrim et al. 2008). Such shifts may result from aspirations for consumer lifestyles or, indeed, new commercial resource uses being introduced into an area (WWF 2007).

Extreme natural events and environmental destruction (including deforestation and unsustainable agricultural production) are also rapid drivers of biodiversity loss and the erosion of local land-based cultures, particularly when coupled with anthropogenic, economic, or political stressors (Rapport& Whitford 1999). A lack of transboundary cooperation and geopolitical instability threaten global diversity, as do weak institutions and a lack of resources (Feit 1988; Smith et al. 2007). The combined impacts of these drivers have caused us to enter what has been termed as the sixth great extinction period (McNeely& Scherr 2001; Pretty 2002; Skutnabb-Kangas et al. 2003).

Many of these drivers evolve from capitalist economies that stress on non-stop economic growth, which results in shifts in consumption patterns, the globalisation of markets, and the commercialisation of resources (Berkes 2001; Samson 2003; Pretty 2007a). These emergent threats are reinforced by pressures of assimilation and urbanisation, and are by no means mutually exclusive. They are at their most intense when they lead to rapid and unanticipated periods of socioeconomic change. Combined, these threats are paving the way to the homogenization of cultures and landscapes, as demonstrated by the assessments of the state of global and sub-global environments and cultural systems (Maffi 2001; MEA 2005; Rapport 2006; Pretty et al. 2007).

The combined loss of biodiversity and local ecological knowledge has long-term implications as we lose the uses and future potentials of species, for instance in curing diseases or feeding populations (Gadgil et al. 1993; Pfeiffer 2002; Shreshta& Dhillion 2003; Hamwey 2004; Le Quy 2004; Mhame 2004; Ruiz Muller 2004; Zhang 2004; MEA 2005). At the same time, we are losing adaptive management systems embedded in pre- and non-industrialised cultures that may offer insights for global biodiversity protection in the future (Feit 1988; Agrawal& Gibson 1999; Rudd et al. 2003; Smith et al. 2007).

Beyond impacts on landscapes and cultural diversity, these drivers of change can also have destructive health outcomes. The degradation of ecosystems is related to loss of food security, the spread of human pathogens and the emergence and resurgence of infectious disease and psychological ills (Rapport et al. 1998; Rapport& Lee 2003; Rapport& Mergler 2004). More fundamentally, time spent directly experiencing and interacting with nature has been shown to improve physical and mental health (Pretty 2004, 2007a; Pretty et al. 2005, 2006, 2007a).

   Responses : Policies and Projects Top

The role of and need for effective policies in biodiversity protection has long been understood, but the importance of cultural protection policies as they relate to the environment is only just emerging (Feit 1988; CBD 1992; Maffi 2001; MEA 2005). As many common drivers exist between biological and cultural diversity and their existence is so inherently linked, future policy responses should effectively target both in a new integrative conservation approach. The need for an integrated approach to the conservation of biological and cultural diversity has been acknowledged in Millennium Development Goals (MEA 2005). That is not to say that cultures should be maintained in a steady state, but that cultures should be permitted to evolve as necessary without forced assimilation (direct or indirect) into the dominant culture. Thus cultures may indeed adapt and evolve (for instance, adopting modern practices and emergent economies while maintaining traditional values), but they remain distinct entities.

Policy responses to this paradigm, however, have been slow to emerge and put into practice. Responses to date include local revitalisation projects such as outpost and hunter-support programs (Bersamin& Simpson 2005), culturally-appropriate education schemes (Takano 2004; Pember 2007), ecotourism projects (Bathurst Inlet Lodge 2008; Elu Inlet Lodge 2008; Inari Event 2008) and language revitalisation initiatives (Hirata-Edds et al. 2003). Other efforts include the revival of culturally appropriate healthcare systems (Mohatt& Rasmus 2004), the protection and careful commercialisation of traditional food systems (Eg. Royal Greenland: Marquardt& Caulfield, 1996; Nuttall 1998) and the greening of businesses (Yupari et al. 2004). Most resurgence efforts to date, however, have been small-scale and limited in both capacity and funding (Pilgrim et al. 2009)

Larger-scale movements that have contributed to the dual protection of biological and cultural diversity include the fair-trade movement, certification programmes and the shift towards education for planetary citizenship (Seyfang 2006). The land rights of indigenous and other rural people are being recognised in some locations, for instance in the designation of the Nunavut Inuit territory, Canada (Nuttall 1998; Jull 2001). Investment into community-based conservation and the dissemination of power to grass-root institutions has increased, strengthening the mechanisms that favour long-term social and ecological sustainability (Colchester 2000). Entrepreneurship-based conservation development projects, such as the UNDP Equator Initiative, are also emerging (UNDP 2007). Despite their diversity, however, many efforts remain fragmented, localised and small-scale.

Perhaps the most promising is the emergence of international policies which favour the joint protection of biological and cultural diversity (CBD 1992). International recognition of the links between biodiversity and cultural diversity is reflected in the program of work of IUCNC/EESP and UNESCO, and in the UNEP's (2007) flagship report, Global Environment Outlook. This describes biodiversity as encompassing "human cultural diversity, which can be affected by the same drivers as biodiversity, and which has impacts on the diversity of genes, other species, and ecosystems" (UNEP, 2007).

Nonetheless, most of these initiatives focus on biological diversity primarily, perceiving cultural diversity as a secondary objective or a stepping stone to protecting biodiversity. A great deal still needs to be accomplished in the international arena to strengthen this movement and to ensure that truly integrative policies are filtered down to grass-root communities. More fundamentally, a paradigm shift is needed to transform the way people think about global diversity, whereby biological and cultural diversity are thought of as one. This is emerging in the literature, but has yet to emerge in protection policies, for instance states could implement Biocultural Protection Plans or designate Sites of Biological and Cultural Importance.

One important development has been a dramatic reshaping of the way in which protected areas are conceived (Phillips 2003; Kothari 2006). There is increasing recognition of the importance of Community Conserved Areas. These are places managed by local communities in ways that support high levels of biodiversity, but which often have no official "protected" status (Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2004). There is also growing agreement that cultural landscapes are worthy of protection (i.e. IUCN Category V protected areas) where the interaction of humans and nature over time has produced a particular set of natural and cultural conditions (Phillips 2002, 2003). Emerging partnerships between faith groups and conservation organisations present another powerful opportunity.

A range of policy options do now exist to pave the way towards the joint protection of nature and culture. However, to conserve global diversity effectively, policy efforts need to be driven both locally and internationally, and be large-scale, multi-level and inclusive. For instance, policies emphasising political empowerment, self-governance and territorial control at the grass-roots level have the potential to provide a solid platform from which communities can play a central role in biodiversity conservation, and at the same time retain their own cultural distinctiveness and connectedness to the land (Stevens 1997; Colchester 2000; Schwartzman et al. 2000; Peres and Zimmerman 2001; Heckenberger 2004; Athayde et al. 2007).

The degree to which the diversity of the world's ecosystems is linked to the diversity of its cultures is only beginning to be understood, and there is a great deal about this connection yet to be learnt [Annex B]. However, it is precisely as our knowledge of this linkage is advancing that these complex systems are receding (Maffi 2001; Skutnabb-Kangas et al. 2003). In the absence of an extensive and sensitive accounting of the mutual threats and effective policies targeting these issues, endangered species, threatened habitats, dying languages and vast knowledge bases are being lost at rates that are orders of magnitude higher than the "natural" extinction rates (McNeely& Scherr 2001; Pretty 2002). While conserving nature alongside human cultures presents unique challenges (Dove et al. 2005; Robbins et al. 2006), any hope of saving biological diversity, or even recreating lost environments through restoration ecology, is predicated on a concomitant effort to appreciate and protect cultural diversity (Nietschmann 1992; Stevens 2007; Maffi 2001; Zent 2001; Pretty 2007a).


This article emerged from the 2008 International Conference on Sustaining Cultural and Biological Diversity in a Rapidly Changing World: Lessons for Global Policy organised by the American Museum of Natural History, IUCN and Terralingua, 2-5 April, 2008, New York. The authors collaborated to write a background article for the conference, and this article was co-written following the helpful comments from the participants at the conference.


1. In this paper, we use the terms 'protect' and 'conserve' not to describe the maintenance of cultures in a steady state, but instead these terms are used to describe the protection of a communities' right to evolve and adapt its culture to external pressures (such as environmental change or new markets) at its own pace, and retain traditional elements of its culture (such as values or beliefs) wherever it sees fit.

2. In this paper, the authors have purposely not used the term indigenous peoples or groups so as not to exclude pre- and non-industrial societies that are rich in culture but fail to fall under Jose R. Martinez Cobo's working definition of indigenous peoples adopted by the UN, "Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system" (UN, 2004). Here, cultural diversity stretches beyond the diversity of indigenous groups to include all social groupings.[130]

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Trends in Ecology & Evolution. 2015;
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5 From Environmental Connectedness to Sustainable Futures: Topophilia and Human Affiliation with Nature
Thomas Beery,K. Jönsson,Johan Elmberg
Sustainability. 2015; 7(7): 8837
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6 Developing relational understandings of water through collaboration with indigenous knowledges
Margaret Somerville
Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water. 2014; : n/a
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
7 Cultural Diversity in the Amazon Borderlands: Implications for Conservation and Development
David S. Salisbury,Ben G. Weinstein
Journal of Borderlands Studies. 2014; 29(2): 217
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8 Factors influencing local ecological knowledge maintenance in Mediterranean watersheds: Insights for environmental policies
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AMBIO. 2014;
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9 In Situ Maintenance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge on Malekula Island, Vanuatu
Joe McCarter,Michael C. Gavin
Society & Natural Resources. 2014; : 1
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10 Ethnobiology, Political Ecology, and Conservation
Steve Wolverton,Justin M. Nolan,Waquar Ahmed
Journal of Ethnobiology. 2014; 34(2): 125
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11 Water Flows Toward Power: Socioecological Degradation of Lake Urmia, Iran
Azad Henareh Khalyani,Audrey L. Mayer,Emma S. Norman
Society & Natural Resources. 2014; 27(7): 759
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
12 Role of local culture, religion, and human attitudes in the conservation of sacred populations of a threatened ‘pest’ species
Lynne R. Baker,Oluseun S. Olubode,Adebowale A. Tanimola,David L. Garshelis
Biodiversity and Conservation. 2014;
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13 Seventy-One Important Questions for the Conservation of Marine Biodiversity
Conservation Biology. 2014; : n/a
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
14 Biodiversity, cultural pathways, and human health: a framework
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Trends in Ecology & Evolution. 2014;
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15 Sustaining cultural and biological diversity in rapidly changing communities: the revitalization of the Voladores ritual in northern Veracruz (Mexico)
Elena Ianni,Evodia Silva Rivera,Davide Geneletti
Environment, Development and Sustainability. 2014;
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16 Linking ecosystem services with the constituents of human well-being for poverty alleviation in eastern Himalayas
Harpinder Sandhu,Sukhbir Sandhu
Ecological Economics. 2014; 107: 65
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17 Hunting Down the Chimera of Multiple Disciplinarity in Conservation Science
Conservation Biology. 2013; : n/a
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18 Biocultural diversity conservation for island and islanders: Necessity, goal and activity
Sun-Kee Hong
Journal of Marine and Island Cultures. 2013; 2(2): 102
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19 Two Rivers: The Politics of Wild Salmon, Indigenous Rights and Natural Resource Management
Gro Ween,Benedict Colombi
Sustainability. 2013; 5(2): 478
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20 Animals for the Gods: Magical and Religious Faunal Use and Trade in Brazil
Rômulo R. N. Alves,Ierecê L. Rosa,Nivaldo A. Léo Neto,Robert Voeks
Human Ecology. 2012; 40(5): 751
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21 Plants with Histories: The Changing Ethnobotany of Iquito Speakers of the Peruvian Amazon
Kevin Jernigan
Economic Botany. 2012; 66(1): 46
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
22 Conservation planning in a cross-cultural context: the Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Project in the Kimberley, Western Australia
Heather Moorcroft,Emma Ignjic,Stuart Cowell,John Goonack,Sylvester Mangolomara,Janet Oobagooma,Regina Karadada,Dianna Williams,Neil Waina
Ecological Management & Restoration. 2012; 13(1): 16
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23 Are the Young Less Knowledgeable? Local Knowledge of Natural Remedies and Its Transformations in the Andean Highlands
Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel,Regine Brandt,Susanne Lachmuth,Stephan Rist
Human Ecology. 2012; 40(6): 909
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24 Most of nature: A framework to resolve the twin dilemmas of the decline of nature and rural communities
Robert J.S. Beeton,A. Jasmyn J. Lynch
Environmental Science & Policy. 2012; 23: 45
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25 The roles of local, national and international designations in conserving biocultural diversity on a landscape scale
Terence Hay-Edie,Patricia Howard,Gary Martin,Susannah McCandless
International Journal of Heritage Studies. 2011; 17(6): 527
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26 Opportunities and barriers in the implementation of protected area management: a qualitative meta-analysis of case studies from European protected areas
The Geographical Journal. 2011; 177(4): 321
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
27 Indigenous and community conserved areas in Oaxaca, Mexico
Gary J. Martin,Claudia I. Camacho Benavides,Carlos A. Del Campo García,Salvador Anta Fonseca,Francisco Chapela Mendoza,Marco Antonio González Ortíz
Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal. 2011; 22(2): 250
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