Scientists call for a broader approach for biodiversity to turn the tide

Published on
March 26, 2021

In a paper published in the journal Nature Sustainability, scientists call for a broader and pluralistic approach to biodiversity. Biodiversity is often approached from a scientific perspective that focuses on species and protected areas. But this approach ignores the different values and perspectives of people. According to the authors, this limited definition of biodiversity hampers the equity and effectiveness of efforts to reduce biodiversity loss.

The article entitled “Biodiversity and the challenge of pluralism” states that the narrow definition of biodiversity employed by many conservation programmes and organisations, tends to focus on the protection of charismatic species is at odds with the many different ways ordinary people perceive, know, value, depend upon and care for nature. The authors, an interdisciplinary team of leading biodiversity scientists in the fields of economics, social and political science, geography and ecology, argue that this mismatch between the way nature is conceived and valued by the conservation movement and by ordinary people, including marginalised communities.

Reconsidering the concept

The paper calls for a reconsideration of the concept of biodiversity at national and international levels. A broader approach to biodiversity is needed that recognises the many different ways in which nature matters to people. Not only the diversity of species, but the diversity of all life on Earth and the different relations between these forms of life, including people. This will contribute to the design of conservation methods that respect the rights of marginalised communities, especially Indigenous people, and includes their traditional ecological knowledge and sustainable practices. It is often these communities that bear the burden of conservation and that face injustice for example by displacement.

Address causes

Such a pluralistic approach is needed to identify the underlying causes of biodiversity loss and how this is problem is connected to growing global inequality. The authors stress that politics of power, vested interests, and responsibilities must be considered in order to identify who benefits from the destruction of biodiversity.

Unai Pascual, from the Basque Centre for Climate Change and lead author of the article: “In order to address the causes and solutions, biodiversity scientists, implementers, and policymakers must look not only at animal and plant species, but also at the values people give to nature. Even if these differ. It is time to embed these values into biodiversity approaches worldwide." Esther Turnhout, co-author from Wageningen University & Research, adds, "The international community needs to recognize that a narrow scientific approach to biodiversity has led to injustice and a lack of effectiveness. Broader knowledge based on natural sciences, social sciences and non-scientific knowledge, contributes to a better understanding of what biodiversity is, why it is important, and what values and interests are involved.

Convention on Biological Diversity

This new article in Nature Sustainability is designed to contribute to debate at the delayed next meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity, now scheduled to take place in October 2021 in Kunming, China. The authors hope that their calls for pluralism will help inform the setting of biodiversity objectives, targets, and indicators for the next decades.

The publication also honours one of its authors, Professor Georgina Mace of University College London, who passed away before publication. Georgina Mace was a fervent advocate of inclusive and interdisciplinary approaches to biodiversity science.