Skip to main content

Rural Sanctuary: an Ecosemiotic Agency to Preserve Human Cultural Heritage and Biodiversity


A Rural Sanctuary is defined as an area where farming activity creates habitats for a diverse assemblage of species that find a broad spectrum of resources along the season. A Rural Sanctuary is proposed as a new model of land management to protect nature inside a framework of cultural identity and agro-forestry sustainability. A Rural Sanctuary has a dual mission: to provide immaterial (amenity, sense of place, conservation of cultural heritage) and material (agricultural products) resources for people, and to guarantee living spaces to a large assemblage of species. A Rural Sanctuary represents an ecosemiotic agency in which human eco-fields and animal eco-fields interact. This reflects a model that is rooted in the Mediterranean region, where for long time people and nature have harmoniously lived in strict contact and inter-dependence. An example of a Rural Sanctuary from this region is proposed to demonstrate the amazing diversity of living beings observed on only few hectares of farmland. A Rural Sanctuary offers possibilities to educate people about a more sustainable approach to nature, and it represents a unique place to investigate animal perception. Finally, between the different approach to certify the validity of a Rural Sanctuary, sound recording is suggested as one of the less invasive methods for ecological investigation and long-term monitoring.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  • Aniah, P., & Yelfaanibe, A. (2016). Learning from the past: The role of sacred groves and shrines in environmental management in the Bongo District of Ghana. Environmental Earth Sciences, 75, 916.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Aniah, P., & Yelfaanibe, A. (2017). Environment, development and sustainability of local practices in the sacred groves and shrines in Bongo District: a bio-cultural study for environmental management in Ghana. Environment, Development and Sustainability.

  • Arntzen, J. W., Abrahams, C., Meilink, W. R. M., Iosif, R., & Zuiderwijk, A. (2017). Amphibian decline, pond loss and reduced population connectivity under agricultural intensification over a 38 year period. Biodiversity and Conservation, 26, 1411–1430.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Battin, J. (2004). When good animals love bad habitat. Ecological traps and the conservation of animal populations. Conservation Biology, 18(6), 1482–1491.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Blondel, J., & Aronson, J. (1999). Biology and wildlife of the Mediterranean region. Oxford: Oxford: University Press.

  • Carrion, J. S., Rose, J., & Stringer, C. (2011). Early human evolution in the Western Palearctic: Ecological scenarios. Quaternary Science Review, 30, 1281–1295.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caula, S., de Villalobos, A. E., & Marty, P. (2014). Seasonal dynamics of bird communities in urban forests of a Mediterranean city (Montpellier, southern France). Urban Ecosystems, 17, 11–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cecere, J. G., Panuccio, M., Chiarugi, A., Urbano, F., Imperio, S., Celada, C., & Lopez-Lopez, P. (2017). Snake species richness predicts breeding distribution of short-toed snake eagle in central Italy. Ethology, Ecology & Evolution.

  • Claval, P. (2005). Reading the rural landscapes. Landscape and Urban Planning, 70, 9–19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clayton, S., Colleony, A., Conversy, P., Maclouf, E., Martin, L., Torres, A.-C., Truong, M., & Prevot, A.-C. (2016). Transformation of experience: Toward a new relationship with nature. Conservation Letters.

  • Dos Santos, S., Adams, E. A., Neville, G., Wda, Y., de Sherbinin, A., Mullin Bernhardt, E., Adamo, S. B. (2017). Urban growth and water access in sub-Saharan Africa: Progress challenges, and emerging research direction. Science of Total Environment.

  • Fanelli, G., Battisti, C., & Malavasi, R. (2014). Comparing alpha-diversity between plants and birds in a remnant wetland: evidence for a threshold and implication for management. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 22(5), 565–569.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Farina, A. (2000). The cultural landscape as an example of integration of ecology and economics. BioScience, 50, 313–320.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Farina, A. (2012). A biosemiotic perspective of the resource criterion: Toward a general theory of resources. Biosemiotics, 5, 17–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Farina, A., & Belgrano, A. (2004). Eco-field: A new paradigm for landscape ecology. Ecological Research, 19, 107–110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Farina, A., & Belgrano, A. (2006). The eco-field hypothesis: toward a cognitive landscape. Landscape Ecology, 21, 5–17.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Farina, A., & James, P. (2016). Acoustic community structure and dynamics: A fundamental Component of ecoacoustics. Biosystems, 147, 11–20.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Farina, A., Johnson, A. R., Turner, S. J., & Belgrano, A. (2003). “Full” world versus “empty” world paradigm at the time of globalization. Ecological Economics, 45, 11–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gosling, A., Schakleton, C. M., & Gambiza, J. (2017). Community-based natural resource use and management of Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, Uganda, for livelihood benefits. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 25, 717–730.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hansen-Moller, J. (2009). Natursyn model: A conceptual framework and method for analysing and comparing views of nature. Landscape and Urban Planning, 89, 65–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hanski, I. (1999). Metapopulation ecology. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hale, R., & Swearer, S.E. (2017). Ecological traps: current evidence and future directions. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, 283, 20152647.

  • Hoffmeyer, J. (1996). Signs of meaning in the universe. Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis.

  • Homberger, B., Duplain, J., Jenny, M., & Jenni, L. (2017). Agri-evironmental schemes and active nest protection can increase hatching success of a reintroduced farmland bird species. Landscape and Urban Planning, 161, 44–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • IPCC (2013). Summary for policymakers. In: Stocker, T.F., Qin, D., Plattner, G.-K., Tignor,M. Allen, S.K., J (Eds.), Climate change 2013: The physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. IPCC, 2014.

  • IUCN (2000). IUCN red list categories and criteria. Version 3.1 Second Edition.

  • Karanth, K. K., & Kudalkar, S. (2017). History, location, and species matter: Insights for human-wildlife conflict mitigation from India. Human Dimension of Wildlife, 22(4), 331–346.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kopnina, H. (2016). Half of the earth for people (or more)? Addressing ethical questions in conservation. Biological Conservation, 203, 176–185.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kull, K. (1998). Semiotic ecology: Different natures in the semiosphere. Sign Systems. Studies, 26, 344–371.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lepart, J., & Debussche, M. (1992). Human impact on landscape patterning: Mediterranean examples. In: Hansen, A.J., di Castri, F. (Eds.), Landscape boundaries. Consequences for biotic diversity and ecological flows (pp. 76–106) New York: Springer.

  • MacIvor, J. S. (2016). Cavity-nest boxes for solitary bees: A century of design and research. Apidologie, 48, 311–327.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Maiorano, L., Amori, G., Capula, M., Falcucci, A., Masi, M., Montemaggiori, A., Pottier, J., Psomas, A., Rondinini, C., Russo, D., Zimmermann, N. E., Boitani, l., & Guisan, A. (2013). Threats from climate change to terrestrial vertebrate hotspots in Europe. PLoS One, 8(9), e74989.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Maran, T., & Kull, K. (2014). Ecosemiotics: Main principles and current developments. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 96(1), 41–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Martin-Garcia, J., Barbaro, L., Diez, J. J., & Jactel, H. (2013). Contribution of poplar plantations to bird conservation in riparian landscapes. Silva Fennica, 47(4), 1043.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Medail, F., & Quézel, P. (1999). Biodiversity hotspots in the Mediterranean basin: Setting global conservation priorities. Conservation Biology, 13(6), 1510–1513.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mittermeier, R. A., Turner, W. R., Larsen, F. W., Brooks, T. M., & Gascon, C. (2011). Global biodiversity conservation: The critical role of hotspots. In F. E. Zachos & J. C. Habel (Eds.), Biodiversity hotspots: Distribution and protection of conservation priority areas (pp. 3–22). Berlin Heidelberg: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Morales, M. B., Onate, J. J., Guerrero, I., & Melendez, L. (2015). Influence of landscape and field-level agricultural management on a Mediterranean farmland winter bird community. Ardelola, 62(1), 49–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mullet, T., Farina, A., & Gage, S. H. (2017). The acoustic habitat hypothesis: An ecoacoustic perspective on species habitat selection. Biosemiotics.

  • Myers, N., Mittermeier, R. A., Mittermeier, C. G., da Fonseca, G. A. B., & Kent, J. (2000). Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature, 403, 853–858.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Naveh, Z. (1998). From biodiversity to ecodiversity - Holistic conservation of the biological and cultural diversity of Mediterranean landscapes. In P. W. Rundel, G. Montenegro, & F. M. Jaksic (Eds.), Landscape disturbance and biodiversity in Mediterranean-type ecosystems (pp. 23–53). Berlin: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Nielsen, S. N. (2007). Towards an ecosystem semiotics. Some basic aspects for a new research programme. Ecological Complexity, 4, 93–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nöth, W. (1998). Ecosemiotics. Sign Systems Studies, 26, 332–343.

    Google Scholar 

  • Perni, A., & Martinez-Paz, J. M. (2017). Measuring conflicts in the management of anthropized ecosystems: Evidence from a choice experiment in a human-created Mediterranean wetland. Journal of Environmental Management, 203, 40–50.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Piano, E., De Wolf, K., et al. (2017). Urbanization drives community shifts towards thermophilic and dispersive species at local and landscape scales. Global Change Biology.

  • Pieretti, N., Farina, A., & Morri, D. (2011). A new methodology to infer the singing activity of an avian community: The acoustic complexity index (ACI). Ecological Indicators, 11, 868–873.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pulliam, H. R. (1988). Sources, sinks, and population regulation. American Naturalist, 132, 652–661.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reba, M., Reitsma, F., & Seto, K. C. (2016). Spatializing 6,000 years of global urbanization from 3700 BC to AD 2000. Scientific Data, 3, 160034.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Schwartz, M. W., & van Mantgem, P. J. (1997). The value of small preserves in chronically fragmented landscapes. In M. W. Schwartz (Ed.), Conservation in highly fragmented landscapes (pp. 379–394). New York: Chapman and Hall.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Strang, V. (2016). Justice for all: Inconvenient truths and reconciliation in human-non-human relations. In H. Kopnina & E. Shoreman-Ouimet (Eds.), Routledge handbook of environmental anthropology (pp. 263–278). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Suarez-Esteban, A., Delibes, M., & Fedriani, J. M. (2013). Unpaved road verges as hotspots of fleshy-fruited shrub recruitment. Biological Conservation, 167, 50–56.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sueur, J., Farina, A., Gasc, A., Pieretti, N., & Pavoine, S. (2014). Acoustic indices for biodiversity assessment and landscape investigation. Acta Acustica united with Acustica, 100, 772–781.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tonelli, M., Verdù, J. R., & Zunino, M. (2017). Effects of the progressive abandonment of grazing on dung beetle biodiversity: body size matters. Biodiversity and Conservation.

  • Uexküll, J.V., 1982(1940). The theory of meaning. Semiotica, 42, 25–82.

  • Uexküll, J.V, 1992(1934). A stroll through the worlds of animals and men. Semiotica, 89(4), 319–391.

  • Vladimirova, E., & Mozgovoy, J. (2003). Sign field theory and tracking techniques used in studies of small carnivorous mammals. Evolution and Cognition, 9(1), 1–17.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vos, W., & Stortelder, A. (1992). Vanishing Tuscan landscapes: Landscape ecology of a Sud-Mediterranean-montane area (Solano Basin, Tuscany, Italy). Wageningen (The Netherlands): Pudoc Scientific Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • WWF (World Wildlife Fund) (2014). Living Planet Report 2014. Available from: Accessed August 29, 2016.

  • Zakkak, S., Kakalis, E., Radovic, A., Halley, J. M., & Kati, V. (2014). The impact of forest encroachment after agricultural land abandonment on passerine bird communities. Journal of Nature Conservation, 22, 157–165.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Almo Farina.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Farina, A. Rural Sanctuary: an Ecosemiotic Agency to Preserve Human Cultural Heritage and Biodiversity. Biosemiotics 11, 139–158 (2018).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Rural sanctuary
  • Ecosemiotics
  • Full world
  • Eco-field
  • Nature conservation
  • Mediterranean landscape