Biocultural diversity : a Mongolian case study

Seele, Barbara C. ; Esler, Karen J. ; Cunningham, Anthony B. (2019)

CITATION: Seele, B. C., Esler, K. J. & Cunningham, A. B. 2019. Biocultural diversity : a Mongolian case study. Ecology and Society 24(4):27, doi:10.5751/ES-11207-240427.

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Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.


Although conceptual frameworks describing biodiversity and cultural keystone species have been widely accepted over the past 15 years, there remains a need for an overarching framework that covers the various components of biocultural diversity. We present a conceptual framework to enable the better understanding, monitoring, and maintenance of biocultural diversity across a range of spatial scales, from the landscape and ecosystem level to the species and gene/meme level. This is done by combining the concepts of biological diversity and cultural diversity, including cultural values and symbols, ethnoscientific approaches, as well as power relations and institutions, to form a biocultural diversity framework. To illustrate the framework, we use a systems diagram and practical examples from a case study on the ethnoveterinary knowledge and practices of Mongolian pastoralists. Ethnoveterinary knowledge is an example of traditional ecological knowledge and therefore offers valuable insight into biocultural diversity. Using the conceptual framework as a tool, our investigation of biocultural diversity in the Mongolian pastoralist context strongly suggests that an understanding of the historical, political, and cultural contexts, as well as the interrelatedness of cultural processes and ecological systems, is essential for maintaining biocultural diversity. More specifically, our results indicate that retaining a mobile herding way of life as well as the associated balance and communication with nature, is vital for both the continued transmission of ethnoveterinary knowledge and the sustainable use of ecological resources that Mongolian pastoralists rely on. There is a need for national policies that acknowledge, support, and maintain the important and complex processes underlying the Mongolian landscape and the associated worldviews, knowledge, and practices. The development of a coherent framework for biocultural diversity therefore allows for a clearer understanding of the various components and the selection of appropriate indicators for monitoring biocultural diversity.

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