Biocultural approach to nature conservation

An article published in the magazine Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), presents a biocultural approach. This is a measure to determine the "biocultural status" of a species incorporating an analysis of its extinction risk and the cultural state of the human populations that consider it important for their identity.

Renowned CONICET researcher Sandra Díaz is one of the authors of the article, which also presents the most complete list to date of species that play an important role in maintaining human cultural identity.

In addition to campaigns such as “Save the whales” and other initiatives aimed at protecting animal and plant species whose number is decreasing at a rate that puts them in danger of extinction, in the field of nature conservation, the need to take into account anthropological aspects in traditional environmental criteria is getting stronger. The ultimate goal is to align biological conservation with the culture, knowledge and priorities of indigenous peoples and local communities.

"When cultural references about a plant or animal are lost, either because the human group disappears or suffers acculturation, an entire body of values ​​and knowledge about that species is also dissipated. Even when the organism itself does not cease to exist and therefore there is no immediate loss of biodiversity, our relationship with the rest of nature is impoverished."explained Sandra Díaz, CONICET senior researcher at the Multidisciplinary Institute of Plant Biology (IMBIV), CONICET and the National University of Córdoba (UNC).

World leader in community and ecosystem ecology, Díaz is one of the co-authors of an article published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that lists the species called culturally important (ECI) most complete today. Furthermore, it proposes a measure of "biocultural status"to analyze the vulnerability of a species in two dimensions: the biological risk is determined according to its category in the IUCN World Red Book; and its cultural status, taking as an indicator the degree of vulnerability of the language of the people who consider it important for their cultural identity.

ECIs are organizations that play a recognized role in maintaining the cultural identity of a nation or group of nations, making a significant contribution to religion, spirituality and social cohesion. Time brings a sense of belonging, territory and collective purpose.

biocultural approach

Main tool, the biocultural approach

The ECI list drawn up by the researchers includes 385 species from around the world (mainly plants, but also animals and fungi); some of them live in Argentina and illustrate different combinations of biological and cultural status. Among them, Díaz mentioned the pehuén (Araucaria araucana), the missionary pine (Araucaria angustifolia), yerba mate (ilex paraguarensis), the Andean cat (Leopardus Jacobite), The jaguar (Panthera onca), the corzuela (Mazama gouazoubira) and the lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari).

"The pehuén, the missionary pine and the Andean cat have been classified as threatened from the biocultural approach because they meet the criteria of biological and cultural risk. At the other extreme are the Mate and the corzuela, which do not represent a direct threat from either point of view. There are examples of species that are not biologically threatened but are due to their associated cultural heritage and vice versa. Each of these categories requires a different approach to conservation and sustainable use."said Díaz, who received the 2019 Princess of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technological Research to Fight Climate Change through the use of plants.

The article, written by Victoria Reyes García of the Center for Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA) in Catalonia, Spain, is part of a broader initiative that Díaz leads with Benjamín Halpern of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) in Santa Barbara, United States that is committed to addressing global environmental priorities.

"We realized that classification based largely on the ecological vulnerability of species does not take into account their cultural importance. By not recognizing the connection between them and the local groups that have traditionally used them, we are losing very important aspects of nature conservation, hence the importance of this biocultural approach”Díaz emphasized.

"A key finding is that a significant proportion of species recognized as culturally important have not yet been formally assessed by international organizations that monitor their conservation status, for example the IUCN Red List. This reflects a lack of interaction between conservation movements and local communities, as well as between natural and social sciences.".

"With this biocultural approach proposal we wanted to illustrate a possible path to bring these fields together in pursuit of more sustainable and inclusive models of conservation and use.“concluded the Argentine scientist.

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