Linguistic and biological diversity linked

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PICTURE: A lion relaxes in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. view After

Credit: Larry Gorenflo, Penn State

Cultural diversity – indicated by linguistic diversity – and biodiversity are linked, and their connection may be another way to preserve both natural environments and indigenous people in Africa and perhaps around the world, according to a team. international research community.

“The bottom line is that if you are interested in conserving biological diversity, excluding indigenous peoples who probably helped create that diversity in the first place can be a very bad idea,” said Larry Gorenflo, professor of architecture at Landscape, Geography and African Studies, Penn State. “Humans are part of ecosystems and I hope this study will mark the start of a more committed effort to involve indigenous peoples in the conservation of localities containing key biodiversity.

Gorenflo, in collaboration with linguist Suzanne Romaine, Merton College, University of Oxford, UK, examined 48 localities in Africa designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as natural world heritage sites. These sites are home to “combined natural or cultural resources or natural resources of global significance,” they report. This article was uploaded as an unedited manuscript in January 2021 before final online publication in April 2021 in Conservation biology.

They analyzed GIS data on indigenous languages ​​in these areas and found that 147 languages ​​overlapped UNESCO sites. Indigenous languages ​​were present in all but one of the natural World Heritage sites examined.

“The Namib Sand Sea Desert in Namibia is a fairly dry region,” Gorenflo said. “A little sorry, with beautiful sand dunes and natural features, but so hard that there is no one living there as far as I know.”

But in all other natural World Heritage sites in mainland Africa and on neighboring islands, indigenous peoples not only live, but to some extent manage the environment in which they live and have long done so.

“The big message is basically that there is more and more evidence that cultural diversity and biodiversity are interdependent, and we have found it on a fairly fine geographic scale,” Gorenflo said. “If so, it makes a strong case for indigenous peoples to participate in the management of ecosystems in the sites where they live.

“In terms of a management approach, when there is more than one linguistic group associated with a specific site, the strategy should probably be to let people associated with individual zones take care of those zones”, a- he declared.

In addition to finding that speakers of indigenous languages ​​often live in high-level UNESCO sites, the researchers also found that the number of languages ​​in these localities correlated with the number of species whose ranges occurrence include these sites.

For their linguistic data, the team used Ethnologue, a linguistic database originally created to translate the Bible and the world’s only dataset for languages ​​with detailed geographic information.

“The database is definitely not totally correct,” Gorenflo said. “But it shows major trends.”

For species data, the researchers used the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, which includes data on the range of species. They examined amphibians, mammals, reptiles and a collection of freshwater species. They also used data from Birdlife International and the “Birds of the World Handbook” for bird species.

“What we have found numerically is that in UNESCO World Heritage sites, if you plot the numbers of languages ​​against the range numbers of species, you see that there is a positive relationship.” , said Gorenflo. “Maybe that’s because more natural complexity generates more cultural complexity, although we don’t know for sure.”

The results of the study revealed that in UNESCO stables in Africa, indigenous languages ​​overlapped the ranges of more than 8,200 species in the groups considered.

Gorenflo suggests that there may be a reduction in biodiversity in these globally important African sites if indigenous groups are displaced or have some way of influencing the management of these marginalized localities.

“Our ultimate goal is to try to look at a few places and figure out how we might revisit and reconsider management strategies and involve indigenous peoples more in shared governance.

Focusing on these high-level UNESCO sites provides a basis for involving indigenous peoples in the governance which will hopefully spread to less notable places in Africa and beyond, according to Gorenflo.

It hopes to examine specific areas to increase their understanding of the relationship between biological and linguistic diversity, focusing first on the mountains of the Eastern Arc of Tanzania, where much of the linguistic and biological diversity occurs. in this country. It also plans to examine Vanuatu, an archipelago in the biodiversity hotspot of the eastern Melanesian Islands with particularly dense linguistic diversity. Indo-Burma – Cambodia, Laos, Viet Nam, Myanmar and southern China – and Meso-America, two regions where linguistic diversity is also quite high, are two other interesting biodiversity hotspots. .

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