What is biocultural diversity and why is it important?

by Peter Giovannini

Biocultural diversity is a term that describes the link between the cultural and biological diversity on the planet . This link has been increasingly acknowledged in the last decade after researchers have shown that the world areas with higher cultural diversity often overlap with the areas of higher biological diversity.

It is believed that one of the causes of this link is that indigenous cultures have developed more sustainable lifestyles and they act as wise stewards of biodiversity. This concept brings a huge paradigm shift in biodiversity conservation strategies where few decades ago the most common strategy was to exclude people from natural reserves to protect nature. Today, conservation strategies are starting to consider indigenous people as potential allies in the protection of biodiversity and in many parts of the world there are examples of successful community conservation projects which aim to empower people and enabling them to continue to protect the environment.

Linguistic diversity is often used as an indicator of cultural diversity and studies have shown that decline of linguistic diversity is even faster than the decline of biological diversity. Therefore, some international and national organizations are trying to revitalize, and conserve languages and cultures as much as biodiversity. UNESCO promotes education in mother-tongue language and multilinguism. Terralingua 'promote the investigation of the links between biological, cultural, and linguistic diversity, as well as the adoption of an integrated biocultural perspective on the perpetuation, maintenance and revitalization of diversity on Earth' (Terralingua website).

How do you estimate biocultural diversity?

Different methods can be used ot calculate indexes of biocultural diversity. What is essential is that these include some estimate of both biological and cultural diversity. Terralingua is calculating an index of biocultural diversity using the following indicators: number of languages, number of ethnic groups, number of religions, number of bird and mammal species (combined), and number of plant species.


  • UNESCO: languages in education"
  • Community Conservation
  • Terralingua