Biocultural vulnerability exposes threats of culturally important species

Victoria Reyes-García, Rodrigo Cámara-Leret, Benjamin S. Halpern, Casey O'Hara, Delphine Renard, Noelia Zafra-Calvo, Sandra Díaz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


There are growing calls for conservation frameworks that, rather than breaking the relations between people and other parts of nature, capture place-based relationships that have supported social-ecological systems over the long term. Biocultural approaches propose actions based on biological conservation priorities and cultural values aligned with local priorities, but mechanisms that allow their global uptake are missing. We propose a framework to globally assess the biocultural status of specific components of nature that matter to people and apply it to culturally important species (CIS). Drawing on a literature review and a survey, we identified 385 wild species, mostly plants, which are culturally important. CIS predominate among Indigenous peoples (57%) and ethnic groups (21%). CIS have a larger proportion of Data-Deficient species (41%) than the full set of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) species (12%), underscoring the disregard of cultural considerations in biological research. Combining information on CIS biological conservation status (IUCN threatened status) and cultural status (language vitality), we found that more CIS are culturally Vulnerable or Endangered than they are biologically and that there is a higher share of bioculturally Endangered or Vulnerable CIS than of either biologically or culturally Endangered CIS measured separately. Bioculturally Endangered or Vulnerable CIS are particularly predominant among Indigenous peoples, arguably because of the high levels of cultural loss among them. The deliberate connection between biological and cultural values, as developed in our "biocultural status" metric, provides an actionable way to guide decisions and operationalize global actions oriented to enhance place-based practices with demonstrated long-term sustainability.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2217303120
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jan 2023


  • Indigenous languages
  • biocultural diversity
  • conservation planning
  • cultural keystone species


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