Biodiversity conservation and the importance of local consciousness

While researching listed threatened species to write up an information sheet for a ENVS3039 practical, I found out that Singapore (my native country) actually has a mention on the IUCN Red List of Top 100 most threatened species in the world (Baillie & Butcher, 2012): the Singapore Freshwater Crab (Johora singaporensis) is a small freshwater crab which can only be found in 2 small areas in Singapore, a stream in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and a drainage canal in Bukit Batok. Coincidentally, I have lived adjacent to those areas for more than a decade and visited them frequently but have remained ignorant until a chance Internet search in a foreign land.

Singapore Freshwater Crab (Photo by Choy Heng Wah)

Singapore Freshwater Crab (Photo by Choy Heng Wah)

The problems with biodiversity conservation

The rate of biodiversity loss is not slowing despite commitments (increases in protected areas etc.) by world leaders through the 2002 Convention of Biological Diversity to achieve a significant reduction (Butchart, et al., 2010). Biodiversity hotspots (areas especially biodiversity-rich and threatened by human activities) have a higher 1995 population density of 73 people/ km2 than the world as a whole (Cincotta, Wisnewski, & Engelman, 2000). Urbanization causes the most lasting loss of biodiversity conservation (McKinney, 2002). All these problems point to the rise in human population as the root cause of biodiversity loss and the failure of governmental action to stem the losses. People are now much more likely to be knowledgeable about ecosystems across the world from documentaries and to be interested in helping biodiversity conservation but become biased and devalue the biodiversity significance of “ordinary” landscapes (Hanski, 2005).

The solution

Combining all of the above, a solution to the root of the problem is instilling of local biodiversity consciousness into current elementary education. I remember my biology lessons in secondary school being about Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos, genetic bottlenecks and the African cheetah and so on. All these broad concepts can just as easily be described using local species instead of using biology to teach history (Feinsinger, Margutti, & Oviedo, 1997). Using local ecology to teach concepts in biology and ecology can bring a sense of connection for students as well as building an awareness of place, the local ecology and how we fit into the ecosystem, something which was naturally instilled in primitive tribes from dependence on the natural environment (Kawagley & Barnhardt, 1998). Using cookie-cutter textbooks and rote teaching can be efficient but only serves to further alienate humans from the natural environment. Gruenewald (2003) gives a good overview of the history and concepts of “place-conscious education”.

Young student field trip to Niwot Ridge (Photo by C.A. Cass (CU Boulder))

Young student field trip to Niwot Ridge (Photo by C.A. Cass (CU Boulder))

The reasons

I believe this solution would attack the problem at its root (humanely), judging from the research from the book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008), which states that people usually choose the default option in the absence of a specific instruction and so modifying our early education has a far greater chance to adjust people’s mindsets.

It can solve the problems shown above by increasing local biodiversity knowledge in the local populace and binds the local people more tightly to a sense of place, increasing political activism (Gruenewald, 2003); understand that even ordinary landscapes are important sources of biodiversity (Hanski, 2005) and helping people acknowledge the existence of ecological limits and refute the assumption that unlimited growth in the global economy is possible and desirable (Gruenewald, 2003). An increased human population is unavoidable but perhaps education can reduce the rate of growth and make people better neighbours with native biodiversity.

Further thoughts

Prominent scientist Dame Jane Goodall recently wrote an article for Inside Story titled “The humility of local consciousness” (Goodall, 2013) and there is an increasing push towards local consciousness from aspects such as sourcing local produce to biodynamic farming. What do you think about increasing local consciousness in biology teaching? Is it relevant in your opinion?

Junyan Tan (Junior) – B.Eng/B.Sci

Works Cited

  1. Baillie, J. E., & Butcher, E. R. (2012). Priceless or Worthless? The world’s most threatened species . London: Zoological Society of London, United Kingdom.
  2. Butchart, S. H., Walpole, M., Collen, B., Strien, A. v., Scharlemann, J. P., Almond, R. E., et al. (2010). Global Biodiversity: Indicators of Recent Declines. Science, 328(5982), 1164-1168.
  3. Cincotta, R. P., Wisnewski, J., & Engelman, R. (2000). Human population in the biodiversity hotspots. Nature, 404, 990 – 992.
  4. Feinsinger, P., Margutti, L., & Oviedo, R. D. (1997, March 1). School yards and nature trails: ecology education outside the university. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 12(3), 115-120.
  5. Goodall, J. (2013, February 13). The humility of local consciousness. Retrieved April 11, 2013, from Inside Story:
  6. Gruenewald, D. A. (2003). Foundations of Place: A Multidisciplinary Framework for Place-Conscious Education. American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 619–654.
  7. Hanski, I. (2005). Landscape fragmentation, biodiversity loss and the societal response. EMBO Reports, 388 – 392.
  8. Kawagley, A. O., & Barnhardt, R. (1998). Education Indigenous to Place: Western Science Meets Native Reality. Retrieved April 16, 2013, from Alaska Univ., Fairbanks. Alaska Native Knowledge Network.:
  9. McKinney, M. L. (2002). Urbanization, Biodiversity, and Conservation. BioScience, 52(10), 883-890.
  10. Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. London: Yale University Press.

About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Biodiversity conservation and the importance of local consciousness

  1. Being a very urbanised country, these suggestions I believe are very relevant to Australia, where I live.

  2. Kien says:

    Thanks very much for the piece Junyan. I learnt a lot. Some times, I have that feeling myself – am I too trapped into the bigger picture and that ignorant of the simple, ordinary landscape right next-door that can contain lots of mini lessons of biodiversity. At the same time, I think the Biodiversity course has attempted so hard and does so well so-far (Mulligan Flats as an example or Cotter landscape restoration that many Australian volunteers have contributed enormoulsy in recovering the landscape and ecosystem/biodiversity). I think many Australian friends are very much conscious of their local areas and this is one of the things I wish to carry home as lessons to Vietnam and hopefully to be able to do something.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s