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Public discourses on conservation and development in a rural community in Colombia: an application of Q-methodology

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People living in rural areas are caught between the two often conflicting objectives of conserving biodiversity and promoting economic development. Current approaches to conservation are built on the premise that conservation and development are not antagonistic. Social conservationists advocate win–win solutions that both conserve biodiversity and promote human well-being. In this paper we explore how the conservation-development relationship is understood by a rural community in Colombia where remaining areas of tropical dry forest are threatened by human activities, and a payment for ecosystem services scheme, PES, is proposed as a conservation strategy. Q-methodology was used to identify and categorise local peoples’ perspectives on forest conservation. Four distinctive perspectives were found: Social Conservationism, Fair Development, Development Advocate and Government’s Responsibility. Social conservationism places more importance on forest conservation while the other three perspectives emphasise development. This suggests that the conservation program at the local level must be explicit about tensions and trade-offs. Not to do so can compromise the social acceptability of the PES scheme and therefore the conservation objective.

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Fig. 1


  1. Statistical analysis was done using the PQmethod software, freely available from:

  2. One participant did not complete the Q questionnaire and was excluded from further analysis.

  3. For further details see Vargas et al. (2017).


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This work would not be possible without the financial and human support of the Strategic Area Program on Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services and Well-Being of Universidad del Norte, Colombia. Additional funding was provided by the Higher Degree Research financial support offered by the School of Environment at Griffith University, Australia. Funding sources had no role in any stage of this study. We would like to thank the participants of the deliberative workshop, who crucially contributed to the success of the research project. We would like to thank Michael Howes, Alex Lo and Nicholas Rohde for their helpful comments to a previous version of this work. All procedures were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Human Research Ethics Committee of Griffith University, Australia, and the Ethics Committee of Universidad del Norte, Colombia.

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Correspondence to Andrés Vargas.

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Communicated by David Hawksworth.

This article belongs to the Topical Collection: Biodiversity appreciation and engagement.

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Vargas, A., Diaz, D. & Aldana-Domínguez, J. Public discourses on conservation and development in a rural community in Colombia: an application of Q-methodology. Biodivers Conserv 28, 155–169 (2019).

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