Indigenizing Biodiversity Conservation | Professors João Biehl and Agustín Fuentes awarded Biodiversity Challenge Grant

May 24, 2024

Professors João Biehl and Agustín Fuentes are leading, together with renowned Brazilian climate scientist Marina Hirota, a new a collaborative inquiry on the ways Amazonian indigenous ecological knowledges and practices promote biodiversity and ecosystem conservation. They received a major two-year grant from the Thomas A. and Currie C. Barron Family Biodiversity Research Challenge Fund of the High Meadows Environmental Institute.

In developing, from the very beginning of the project, a mutual collaboration with a range of Amazonian scholars and practitioners, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, the team is creating from the ground up a set of perspectives, methods, and theories, that may offer fresh insights or at least transformed possibilities for biodiversity conservation.

Biehl and Fuentes say that the project rejects the simplistic and outdated binary that social scientists focus on humans and natural scientists and conservationists disregard (or even disdain) that same group. Rather, in learning with and from our Indigenous collaborators, their approach seeks to discard such binary frames and to disrupt the historic boundaries of academic disciplinary siloes and reject the caricatures of “science vs people” and “natural vs cultural.” 

Brazilian ecologist Carolina Levis and historian Miqueias Mugge, Brazil LAB Academic Research Manager, will help with the project’s implementation and the team will also collaborate with the Brazilian science foundation Serrapilheira.

Artwork: Denilson Baniwa

This is the synopsis of Indigenizing Biodiversity Conservation: 

The Anthropocene has been marked by an abrupt loss of biodiversity and the disruption of ecosystems. Mainstream conservation efforts have focused on nature protection strategies to combat worldwide ecological crisis, often overlooking the essential roles of Indigenous Peoples in safeguarding a diverse array of ecosystems. Recent studies demonstrate that Indigenous territories maintain 37% of natural ecosystems across the planet. This is clearly the case in the Amazon, home to around 10% of the world’s biodiversity and to over 400 Indigenous ethnic groups, where Indigenous lands, together with protected areas, keep promoting ecosystem resilience and withstanding destructive environmental change. In Indigenizing Biodiversity Conservation, our interdisciplinary team will develop new collaborative methodologies that put Indigenous and Western scientific knowledge systems into critical and integrative dialogue. We will design frameworks that creatively combine ancestral Indigenous knowledges and practices concerned with biodiversity and ecosystem conservation (e.g., techniques for managing multispecies interactions and soil enrichment) with cutting-edge understandings of social-ecological systems that are emanating from the social and natural sciences. The analysis of ethnographic, archaeological, and ecological data and the partnership with Amazonian Indigenous scholars and communities can offer distinctive insight into the mechanisms and pathways by which humans and other beings have been creatively co-shaping the vital Amazonian planetary nexus over the past 12,000 years. The underlying tenet of the project is that Indigenous ecological knowledges and practices can push the boundaries of biodiversity conservation and significantly inform nature-based sustainability initiatives, as well as broader future-making agendas.