Human Dimension of Biodiversity Change background

The program is focused on three sets of  general questions:

  1. Which human actions have the most effect on biodiversity? What are the ultimate drivers of these activities?
  2. What are the consequences of changes in biological diversity for humans? How are they distributed across regions, classes and gender? and
  3. What should be society’s responses to biodiversity changes and to the consequences of these changes on human well-being? When and why are current responses inadequate or ineffective?

Four activities were undertaken in 2009

First, an international conference on Invasive Plants in the Tropics: Ecology,Management and Livelihoods was organized in Bangalore to examine the impact of invasive species on biodiversity and livelihoods of rural communities dependent upon wild biodiversity. The conference addressed all three sets of questions. The output was a series of recommendations concerning future research and the management of invasive species particularly in geographical areas where the invasive species impact not only the biodiversity  but alos rural livelihoods based on biodiversity.

Second, a joint symposium with the IUBS Traditional Knowledge(TK)program, was organized during the IUBS General Assembly  held in Cape Town from October 8-11, 2009. The title of the symposium was: Traditional Knowledge and Environmental Change. The symposium sought to address all three sets of questions from the perspective of traditional knowledge. The symposium featured 8 speakers from Canada, the United States, Argentina, India, and South Africa. It was attended by 50 persons, largely from South Africa.  The major conclusions of the discussion following  the symposium, as summarised by Will McClatchey, the discussion leader,  were:

  • Government systems can create “perverse incentives” and these mask decision about TK
  • We need to focus on “How” our culture(s) is/are going to look like in the future if we are to adapt rather than just responding to each crisis as it emerges.
  • Resilience needs to be instilled within communities and one way to do this is through revival or implementation of TK.
  • It is more important to learn to adapt to change than to learn how to solve it…
  • TK employing Baysian approaches to knowledge acquisition is robust and less “brittle” than the perceived and probably misconceived ideas of TK as being static. This makes it much more applicable to issues such as climate change.

Third, a symposium on Biodiversity Change and Human Well-being was organized at the second DIVERSITAS Open Science Conference  held in Cape Town from October 13 to 16, 2009.  This symposium focused on first and third sets of questions. An article describing the main outcomes of the symposium presentations and discussions is being prepared for publication in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. Briefly the symposium speakers noted that  society's response to biodiversity changes in the  form of the establishment of protected areas has not been always effective , and has generally incurred huge social costs in the form of  displacement of marginal populations and their access to resources that form the basis of their livelihoods. There is thus an urgent need to not only pay more attention to other approaches such as community based conservation , but  to also develop a sound framework for participation of local communities and institutions in community based management (as well as the protected area management).

Fourth, a workshop on the Huamn Dimensions Program was organised at the IUBS General Assembly in Cape Town on October 10. The workshop was attended by 30 delegates, and the report of the workshop was presented to the General Assembly. The workshop particpants reiterated the importance of the three sets of questions the program addresses, and recommended that the program focus on most vulnerbale populations in biodiversity rich areas , particularly in Asia, where mountain and coastal communities are at severe risk not only from biodiveristy change, but also climate change.