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Moving beyond the human–nature dichotomy through biocultural approaches: including ecological well-being in resilience indicators

Sophie Caillon, CEFE UMR 5175, CNRS - Université de Montpellier - Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier - EPHE - IRD, France
Georgina Cullman, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, USA; Forestry, Horticulture, and Natural Resources, New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, USA
Bas Verschuuren, Department of Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University, Netherlands
Eleanor J Sterling, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, USA


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Diverse and productive ecosystems and human well-being are too often considered opposing targets. This stems mainly from nature being perceived as separate from culture, which results in resilience indicators that focus predominantly on either ecosystems or humans, and that overlook the interplay between the two. Meanwhile, global targets for biodiversity conservation and human well-being have yet to be satisfactorily achieved. We believe that in order to develop effective, culturally appropriate, and equitable conservation strategies that ensure social-ecological resilience, conservation planners and practitioners must conceive of human and ecological well-beings as an interrelated system. By giving nature a voice, and by viewing nature and people as an undifferentiated whole, some indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLC) have philosophical bases for achieving well-being for both humans and nature. Biocultural approaches to conservation ground management in local knowledges, practices, and ontologies. These approaches encompass both the biological and cultural aspects of a system, address complex relationships and feedbacks within human and ecological well-being, and offer flexible frameworks that facilitate synthesis across different metrics, knowledge systems, and ontologies. The process of developing indicators of resilience with a biocultural approach could help (1) overcome the human–nature dichotomy that often makes global approaches incompatible with local approaches by integrating local peoples’ diverse forms of relating to nature, (2) reflect two-way feedbacks between people and their environment by focusing on processes, not just final states, and (3) define, measure, and monitor ecological and human well-being as a whole. It can also facilitate dialog between IPLCs and global decision-makers who are disconnected from local realities, and between people from a diversity of disciplinary, ontological, and professional backgrounds.

Key words

biocultural approach; conservation; ecological well-being; human well-being; indicator; indigenous peoples and local communities; nature–culture; ontology; resilience; traditional ecological knowledge

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087