Indigenous-managed lands have the greatest biodiversity, says UBC-led study

Adopting Indigenous practices could help improve traditional conservation efforts

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      As human activities such as deforestation, overfishing, and emitting greenhouse gases continue to devastate the planet, the forecast is bleak for its species. More than one million types of plants and animals worldwide are currently facing extinction: a number that is between 1,000 and 10,000 times greater than the natural rate.

      A new UBC-led study suggests that Indigenous-managed lands may play a critical role in helping species survive.

      Researchers sampled land and species data from three of the world’s biggest countries—Canada, Australia, and Brazil. The study was the first to compare biodiversity and land management on such a broad geographic scale.

      The scientists discovered that the total numbers of birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles were all greatest on lands managed or co-managed by Indigenous communities.

      The second highest numbers of species were present in protected areas like parks and wildlife reserves, with the least amount of biodiversity apparent in randomly selected areas that were not protected.

      “This suggests that it’s the land-management practices of many Indigenous communities that are keeping species numbers high,” said lead author Richard Schuster, the Liber Ero Postdoctoral Fellow at Carleton University, who undertook the research while at UBC. “Going forward, collaborating with Indigenous land stewards will likely be essential in ensuring that species survive and thrive.”

      The study was based on 15,621 geographical areas of varying sizes across the three counties. Through their research, the study authors discovered that the size of an area or its geographical location did not affect species diversity.

      “We looked at three countries with very different climates and species, to see if the pattern held true across these different regions—and it did,” said co-author Ryan Germain, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University. “From frogs and songbirds right up to large mammals like grizzly bears, jaguars, and kangaroos, biodiversity was richest in Indigenous-managed lands.”

      Traditional conservation programs focus on ring-fencing certain habitats to protect plant and animal populations from damaging human intervention. The study’s authors believe their research should lead to a change in how parks and reserves are managed, and that conservation practices should be expanded to be more in-line with Indigenous traditions.

      “Indigenous-managed lands represent an important repository of biodiversity in three of the largest countries on Earth, and Indigenous peoples currently manage or have tenure to roughly one-quarter of the planet’s land area,” said co-author Nick Reo, associate professor of environmental studies and Native American studies at Dartmouth College and citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario tribe of Chippewa Indians. “In light of this, collaborating with Indigenous governments, communities, and organizations can help to conserve biodiversity as well as support Indigenous rights to land, sustainable resource use, and well-being.”

      Kate Wilson is the Technology Editor at the Georgia Straight. Follow her on Twitter @KateWilsonSays