Behavioral ecology of conservation in traditional societies

Abstract

A common exhortation by conservationists suggests that we can solve ecological problems by returning to the attitudes of traditional societies: reverence for resources, and willingness to assume short-term individual costs for long-term, group-beneficial sustainable management. This paper uses the 186-society Standard Cross-Cultural Sample to examine resource attitudes and practices. Two main findings emerge: (1) resource practices are ecologically driven and do not appear to correlate with attitude (including sacred prohibition) and (2) the low ecological impact of many traditional societies results not from conscious conservation efforts, but from various combinations of low population density, inefficient extraction technology, and lack of profitable markets for extracted resources.

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Correspondence to Bobbi S. Low.

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Professor Emilio Moran, Director of the Anthropological Center for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change, Indiana University, kindly shared Marcos Terena’s words.

Bobbi Low is Professor of Resource Ecology, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan. Her research interests include sex differences in resource use, patterns in resource use and reproduction/family formation, and demographic transition patterns.

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Low, B.S. Behavioral ecology of conservation in traditional societies. Human Nature 7, 353–379 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02732899

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Key words

  • Cross-Cultural studies
  • Ecology
  • Resource attitudes
  • Resource use