Sustainable stewardship of the land and sea requires an understanding of the interactions between human cultures and nature.

The challenge

Understanding the interplay between human cultures and nature

Indigenous peoples across Australia know their presence and cultural practices are vital to the health and well-being of the land and sea country they have depended upon for tens of thousands of years.

However, until relatively recently, biologists and evolutionary scientists have often considered natural processes and systems without questioning the effects of biocultural diversity—the interplay between human cultures and nature. The impact on species and ecosystems from the absence of historical interactions with the Indigenous human inhabitants has also often been overlooked.

A global effort to address this knowledge gap is underway; across the world researchers are working alongside Indigenous peoples and local communities to understand the linkages between people’s activities and biodiversity, and to observe and monitor the effects of these interactions.

Our response

Building an understanding of biocultural diversity

 ©Girringun Aboriginal Corporation

We are a part of this global effort, helping to build an understanding of biocultural diversity in both Australia and overseas, as a foundation for more effective stewardship.

We have contributed to analyses of biocultural diversity on Indigenous-owned lands and world heritage sites, and through Australia-wide analyses for State of the Environment reporting.

Internationally, we are part of the Intergovernmental Scientific-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Indigenous and Local Knowledge Taskforce that advances biocultural knowledge and practice worldwide.

The results

Recognition, knowledge and resources

Our work has contributed to a range of resources and initiatives, with Australian and global impact.

With our partners we created a world-first compilation of national Indigenous biocultural documents in the online Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge database . This database delivers easy access for Indigenous peoples, policy makers and researchers to a wealth of (hard to find!) grey literature and community reports that document Indigenous biocultural knowledge.

Our biocultural assessment approaches were incorporated into Pollinators and Pollination in Food Production, the first global assessment undertaken by the IPBES. This resulted in policy changes to better recognise biocultural approaches to conservation being adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Working with the Olkola Aboriginal Corporation on the Cape York Peninsula, we undertook a two-way knowledge sharing process to explore scientific and Indigenous knowledge of biocultural diversity. We used the Atlas of Living Australia to build on past and current efforts of the Olkola people to record and secure their cultural resources. Olkola people have developed a decision-making matrix for sharing biocultural knowledge that takes account of both customary institutions and nation-state regulations around intellectual property.

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