Reappraising the Concept of Biocultural Diversity: a Perspective from South Africa

M.L. Cocks, K.F. Wiersum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Biocultural diversity has been conceptualised as the sum of the world’s differences regarding biological diversity at all levels and cultural diversity in all its manifestations, and their interactions. The concept is often framed in the context ofconservation as a retention versus loss model by emphasizing the religious and spiritual values of the natural environment and the positive interactions between traditional indigenous people and conservation of natural ecosystems and indigenous species. On the basis of our research amongst the ‘non-traditional’ amaXhosa in South Africa, we argue that this interpretation is too narrow and that the concept needs to be reappraised in order to capture the dynamic, complex and relational nature of biocultural diversity relations. We conclude that the concept involves a complex of human values and practices related to the three main dimensions of biodiversity at landscapes, species and genetic levels. It is not only related to the conservation of wild species in culturally venerated natural ecosystems, but also to human creativity in creating hybrid nature-culture systems, including the incorporation of biodiversity in the human domain through the creation of human-modified landscape elements and agro-biodiversity. The biocultural values and practices are subject to various dynamics in relation to socioeconomic change. Some lose their importance as a result of modernization, but others endure even in urban conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)727-737
JournalHuman Ecology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • eastern-cape
  • ecological knowledge
  • medicinal-plants
  • biodiversity
  • conservation
  • landscapes
  • forests
  • domestication
  • people
  • communities

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