Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 25, Issue 14, pp 2889–2906 | Cite as

Putting indigenous conservation policy into practice delivers biodiversity and cultural benefits

  • Emilie EnsEmail author
  • Mitchell. L. Scott
  • Yugul Mangi Rangers
  • Craig Moritz
  • Rebecca Pirzl
Original Paper


In the midst of global species loss, Indigenous languages and culture are experiencing similar declines. Current international policies and programs advocate the involvement of local and Indigenous people in sustaining biodiversity and culture, but the anticipated benefits are not always realized or assessed. This paper draws on three objectives of current international and Australian policy to explore the biological and cultural benefits of a collaborative cross-cultural biodiversity project of Indigenous rangers and university ecologists in remote northern Australia. Policies promoting blends of biological and cultural conservation from International to national scale share the following objectives: (1) involve Indigenous Peoples in biodiversity conservation; (2) maintain and develop Indigenous knowledge and culture; and (3) recognize and promote Indigenous natural and cultural resource management and traditional knowledge. This paper reflects on the project benefits in the context of these objectives, with the aim of informing future policy and program development. Biodiversity benefits of the cross-cultural project included new public records for a relatively poorly known but species rich area that are being used to inform local Indigenous land management, as well as specimens and tissue samples with which to explore the genetic diversity and evolutionary history of the region. Cultural benefits included compiling a local field guide that contains ten different languages and engaging young people to facilitate intergenerational transfer of threatened traditional knowledge. Promotion of the work at local to national fora addressed the third objective and enhanced Indigenous involvement. We demonstrate that top-down policy directives can be implemented to deliver on-ground mutual benefits for science and Indigenous communities.


Indigenous biocultural knowledge (IBK) Natural and cultural resource management (NCRM) Traditional languages Cross-cultural environmental management Traditional ecological knowledge 


  1. Acate Amazon Conservation (2015) Historic meeting of the remaining matsés elder shamans concludes with completion of first indigenous medicine encyclopedia. Acate, San JuanGoogle Scholar
  2. Altman J, Markham F (2014) Submission 0136 to the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia, inquiry into the development of northern Australia. Parliament of Australia, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  3. Amano T, Sandel B, Eager H, Bulteau E, Svenning JC, Dalsgaard B, Rahbek C, Davies RG, Sutherland WJ (2014) Global distribution and drivers of language extinction risk. Proc R Soc Lond B 281:20141574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anaya SJ, Wiessner S (2007) The UN Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples: towards Re-empowerment. Third World Resurgence 206:15Google Scholar
  5. Ansell S, Koenig J (2011) CyberTracker: an integral management tool used by rangers in the Djelk Indigenous Protected Area, central Arnhem Land, Australia. Ecolog Manag Restor 12:13–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baker BJ (2008) Word structure in Ngalakan. Center for the study of language and information, StanfordGoogle Scholar
  7. Baker LM, Community Mutitjulu (1992) Comparing two views of the landscape: aboriginal traditional ecological knowledge and modern scientific knowledge. The Rangel J 14:174–189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Barrow PH (2009) The role of fire in the ecology of Leichhardt’s grasshopper (Petasida ephippigera) and its food plants, Pityrodia spp. Charles Darwin University, SydneyGoogle Scholar
  9. Bohensky EL, Butler JR, Davies J (2013) Integrating indigenous ecological knowledge and science in natural resource management: perspectives from Australia. Ecol Soc 18:20Google Scholar
  10. Borrini-Feyerabend G, Pimbert M, Farvar T, Kothari A, Renard Y. (2004) Sharing Power: Learning by doing in co-management of natural resources throughout the world. International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN)Google Scholar
  11. Ceballos G, Ehrlich PR, Barnosky García A, Pringle RM, Palmer TM (2015) Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: entering the sixth mass extinction. Sci Adv 1:e1400253CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  12. Daniels C, Nelson E, Roy J, Dixon P, Ens E, Towler G (2012) Commitment to our country. In: Altman J, Kerins S (eds) People on country, vital landscapes, indigenous futures. Federation Press, Sydney, pp 174–189Google Scholar
  13. Davidson-Hunt IJ, Turner KL, Mead ATP, Cabrera-Lopez J, Bolton R, Idrobo CJ, Miretski I, Morrison A, Robson JP (2012). Biocultural design: a new conceptual framework for sustainable development in rural indigenous and local communities. Surveys and perspectives integrating environment and society, 5.2Google Scholar
  14. Davies J (2007) Walking together, working together: aboriginal research partnerships. Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre, Alice SpringsGoogle Scholar
  15. Ens E (2012a) Conducting two-way ecological research. In: Altman J, Kerins S (eds) People on Country, vital landscapes. Indigenous futures. Federation Press, Sydney, pp 45–64Google Scholar
  16. Ens EJ (2012b) Monitoring outcomes of environmental service provision in low socio-economic Indigenous Australia using innovative CyberTracker technology. Conserv Soc 10:42–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ens E, Rangers Yugul Mangi (2013) South eastern Arnhem Land baseline biodiversity survey. Australian National University, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  18. Ens EJ, Finlayson M, Preuss K, Jackson S, Holcombe S (2012) Australian approaches for managing ‘country’ using Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge. Ecol Manag Restor 13:100–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ens EJ et al (2015) Indigenous biocultural knowledge in ecosystem science and management: review and insight from Australia. Biol Conserv 181:133–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Evans N (2010) Dying words: Endangered languages and what they have to tell us. Wiley, West SussexGoogle Scholar
  21. Evans MC, Watson JEM, Fuller RA, Venter O, Bennett SC, Marsack PR, Possingham HP (2011) The spatial distribution of threats to species in Australia. Bioscience 61:281–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fogarty B (2012) Country as classroom. In: Altman J, Kerins S (eds) People on country, vital landscapes. Indigenous futures. Federation Press, Sydney, pp 82–93Google Scholar
  23. Gambold NJ (2013) South East Arnhem Land Indigenous Protected Area plan of management 2013–2018. Darwin NT, DarwinGoogle Scholar
  24. Gavin MC, McCarter J, Mead A, Berkes F, Stepp JR, Peterson D, Tang R (2015) Defining biocultural approaches to conservation. Trends Ecol Evol 30:140–145CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Gorenflo LJ, Romaine S, Mittermeier RA, Walker-Painemilla K (2012) Co-occurrence of linguistic and biological diversity in biodiversity hotspots and high biodiversity wilderness areas. Proc Natl Acad Sci 109:8032–8037CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  26. Hill R, Grant C, George M, Robinson CJ, Jackson S, Abel N (2012) A typology of indigenous engagement in australian environmental management: implications for knowledge integration and social-ecological system sustainability. Ecol Soc 17:1–17Google Scholar
  27. Hill R, Pert P, Davies J, Robinson CJ, Walsh F, Falco-Mammone F (2013) Indigenous land management in Australia: extent, scope, diversity, barriers and success factors. CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, CairnsGoogle Scholar
  28. Hill R, Davies J, Bohnet IC, Robinson CJ, Maclean K, Pert PL (2015) Collaboration mobilises institutions with scale-dependent comparative advantage in landscape-scale biodiversity conservation. Environ Sci Policy 51:267–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Liebenberg L (2003) A new environmental monitoring methodologyGoogle Scholar
  30. Lowe L (1995) Preliminary investigations of the biology and management of Leichhardt’s grasshopper, Petasida ephippigera White. J Orthoptera Res 4:219–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Maffi L (2005) Linguistic, cultural, and biological diversity. Annu Rev Anthropol 34:599–617CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McConvell P, Thieberger N (2001) State of indigenous languages in Australia—2001., 2Department of the Environment and Heritage, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  33. McConvell P, Thieberger N (2006) Keeping track of Indigenous language endangerment in Australia. In: Cunningham D, Ingram DE, Sumbuk K (eds) Language diversity in the pacific: Endangerment and survival. Multilingual Matters, Clevedon, p 54Google Scholar
  34. McDonald JA, Carwardine J, Joseph LN, Klein CJ, Rout TM, Watson JEM, Garnett ST, McCarthy MA, Possingham HP (2015) Improving policy efficiency and effectiveness to save more species: a case study of the megadiverse country Australia. Biol Conserv 182:102–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Menkhorst P, Knight F (2010) Field guide to the mammals of Australia. Oxford Univeristy Press, Australia nad New ZealandGoogle Scholar
  36. Moller H (2009) Matauranga Maori, science and seabirds in New Zealand. N Z J Zool 36:203–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Moritz C, Ens E, Potter S, Catullo R (2013) The Australian monsoonal tropics: a unique opportunity to secure biodiversity benefits and secure benfits for Aboriginal communities. Pac Conserv Biol 19:343–355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Muller S (2012) Two Ways: bringing indigenous and non-indigenous knowledges together. In: Weir J (ed) Country, native title and ecology. Australian National University e-press and Aboriginal History Incorporated (Monograph 24), Canberra, pp 59–79Google Scholar
  39. Northern Territory Government (2012) conservation status of animals of the Northern Territory. Schedule 1: Invertebrates Northern Territory, Darwin 49(2)285–294Google Scholar
  40. Roberts RG, Jones R, Spooner NA, Head MJ, Murray AS, Smith MA (1994) The human colonisation of Australia: optical dates of 53,000 and 60,000 years bracket human arrival at Deaf Adder Gorge, Northern Territory. Quatern Sci Rev 13:575–583CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ross H, Grant C, Robinson CJ, Izurieta A, Smyth D, Rist P (2009) Co-management and Indigenous protected areas in Australia: achievements and ways forward. Australas J Environ Manag 16:242–252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Singh R, Pretty KJ, Pilgrim S (2010) Traditional knowledge and biocultural diversity: learning from tribal communities for sustainable development in northeast India. J Environ Plan Manag 53:511–533CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Stephenson J, Moller H (2009) Cross‐cultural environmental research and management: Challenges and progress., 39Taylor & Francis, Milton Park, pp 139–149Google Scholar
  44. Szabo S, Smyth D (2003) Indigenous protected areas in Australia: incorporating indigenous owned land into Australia’s national system of protected areas. In: Cunningham H, Ingram DE, Jaireth K, Smyth D (eds) Innovative Governance—Indigenous peoples, local communities and protected areas. Ane Books, New DelhiGoogle Scholar
  45. Telfer WR, Garde M (2006) Indigenous knowledge of rock kangaroo ecology in Western Arnhem Land, Australia. Hum Ecol 34:379–406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Turvey ST, Pettorelli N (2014) Spatial congruence in language and species richness but not threat in the world’s top linguistic hotspot. Proc R Soc Lond B 281:20141644CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wilson CG, Barrow PH, Michell CR (2003) New locations and host plants for Leichhardt’s grasshopper Petasida ephippigera white (Orthoptera: pyrgomorphidae) in the Northern Territory. Aust Entomol 30:167–176Google Scholar
  48. Woinarski J, Mackey B, Nix H, Trill B (2007) The nature of northern Australia. Natural values, ecological processes and future prospects., 128ANU Press, ActonGoogle Scholar
  49. Woinarski JCZ, Burbidge AA, Harrison PL (2015) Ongoing unraveling of a continental fauna: decline and extinction of Australian mammals since European settlement. Proc Natl Acad Sci 112:4531–4540CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emilie Ens
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mitchell. L. Scott
    • 1
  • Yugul Mangi Rangers
    • 2
  • Craig Moritz
    • 3
  • Rebecca Pirzl
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesMacquarie UniversityNorth RydeAustralia
  2. 2.Yugul Mangi Land and Sea Management Aboriginal CorporationNgukurrAustralia
  3. 3.Centre for Biodiversity AnalysisThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  4. 4.Atlas of Living AustraliaCSIROCanberraAustralia

Personalised recommendations