- Countries in the tropics have the greatest biodiversity, but spend relatively less amount of money per capita on conservation than temperate countries, a new study has found.
- These countries also share cultural traits that are often different from wealthier temperate countries.
- For conservation to succeed, cultural values of a country cannot be ignored, the study concludes.
Tropical countries that are richest in biodiversity spend the least on conservation, a new study has found.
These countries tend to be poor, have weak national governance, and have different cultural values than richer temperate countries that spend more on conservation, the study published in Conservation Biology concluded. Moreover, wealthier countries that do invest conservation money in biodiversity-rich countries sometimes miss the cultural nuances in those countries, making the money simply symbolic, the researchers say. This can make conservation less effective.
“Cultures that are promoting biodiversity conservation through spending need to adapt their thinking and strategies to accommodate the cultures with the biodiversity,” co-author Peter Rankin of the University of Queensland in Australia told Mongabay. “It really demonstrates the complexity of the world and the need to come together and think through multiple perspectives to solve conservation issues.”
To find out if a country’s cultural set up influences a country’s willingness to conserve and pay for nature conservation, Tim McClanahan of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Rankin looked at several international data sources, including the World Value Surveys (WVS), the World Governance Indictors of the World Bank and species richness data from the IUCN Red List.
The study found that countries in the tropics have the greatest biodiversity, but spend relatively less amount of money per capita on conservation than temperate countries. These countries also share cultural traits that are often different from wealthier temperate countries.
For example, countries in the tropics tend to display collectivism, the authors write, where individuals see themselves as highly interconnected, loyal groups, defined by their relations and social context. In such societies, species that are iconic or form an important part of traditions or social customs may stand a better chance of receiving conservation attention.
In contrast, temperate countries tend to display individualism, where individuals in the society see themselves as separate and autonomous from each other, the researchers explain. In these societies, concepts of conservation based on the intrinsic right to life might work better, they add.
Additionally, countries with the most biodiversity have weaker governance and more hierarchical leadership than wealthier nations, the study found.
“This creates challenges for commitment to conserve, and compliance with those commitments,” McClanahan said. “This does not mean they cannot do it but other ways may be needed to achieve this. One of the recommendations is fuller engagement of leaders in conservation where they would see iconic species as a means for strengthening the affinity-binding icons of the group. This might be the African elephant or lion for some African countries, the Panda for China, and the tiger for India where leaders see these icons as important and then protect the large areas that these species require for conservation.”
There are some exceptions, though. The study found for example, that countries like Costa Rica, Croatia and Thailand spend more of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on conservation. On the other hand, countries like Germany, Luxembourg, Israel, and Latvia, seem to spend much less than what would be expected for their cultures with individualism and stronger governance and rule-of-law. These deviations from the trend, according to McClanahan, require further examination of the history of political leadership and implicit values in these countries, as well as factors that either resulted in more or less commitment to nature conservation.
The study points out that most conservation strategies have been developed in nations that are wealthy and have better governance and rule of law. But these countries that have more money have earned most of it by plundering their own natural resources, the authors write.
So strategies that encourage economic development before conserving species can be a recipe for more species extinction, McClanahan said in a statement. This is because species tend to go extinct faster than societies can develop, change their governance or cultural values.
Instead, careful examination of the cultural context of a country is essential for conservation to succeed, the study concluded.
“Much of the conservation and management science is developed in post-materialist cultures with high rule of law and associated governance that is not pervasive in high diversity countries,” McClanahan said. “Consequently, I believe it will be important to develop conservation and management science in culture that lack these cultural attributes to find methods to conserve nature that do not assume or require the post-materialist culture elements such as high spending, rule of law, and intrinsic right to life values. I am calling for a more diversified approach to conservation theory and practice.”
- McClanahan TR and Rankin PS (2016) Geography of conservation spending, biodiversity, and culture. Conservation Biology, Volume 0, No. 0, 1–13. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12720