In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Biodiversity Conservation

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Journals
  • Protected Area Planning
  • Climate Change
  • Sustainable Development

Geography Biodiversity Conservation
Paul Jepson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0045


Biodiversity conservation is the 1990s manifestation of social, scientific, and policy agendas seeking to maintain or restore attributes of nature valued by societies or groups therein. The term “biodiversity” was coined during the 1980s and refers to the totality of genes, species, and ecosystem in a defined space. It became a mainstream policy concern following the ratification of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity. Although the instrumental-value arguments for biodiversity conservation gain most traction in policy, the term is also used as the modern-day label for a broader set of moral-aesthetic value arguments that have origins in social movements dating back to the 19th century. Key concerns have been the conservation of natural resources, avoiding the extinction of species and other forms of biological diversity, the protection of sites and landscapes with cultural and scientific value, and lately the maintenance and restoration of ecosystem services. Because its strategies involve the reservation and/or restrictions on the use of land, biodiversity conservation is a domain of significant politics and controversy. These restrictions relate to, for instance, efforts to curtail the actions of powerful corporate actors and ensuring conservation actors respect the rights of local and indigenous communities. During the 1980s conservation biology was established as the leading scientific discipline informing biodiversity conservation policy. Subsequently, conservation science has become more transdisciplinary as the social, cultural, political, and economic dimensions of action and engagement become more apparent. In particular, work at the interface of ecology and economics is giving rise to powerful new articulations of instrumental-value arguments that frame biodiversity and ecosystems as stocks of natural capital able to generate a stream of vital services and benefits. Human geographers are contributing to more interdisciplinary understandings of biodiversity conservation through innovative and important studies on the conduct of biodiversity conservation. However, as yet there is no “conservation geography” in the same way that conservation biology can lay claim to a cannon.

General Overviews

Given the scope and complex history of biodiversity conservation, there is no single comprehensive overview. For geographers, gaining an overview will mean reading a collection of textbooks, edited collections, and monographs spanning the natural and social sciences and examining the ethical, scientific, policy, political, and economic dimensions of nature conservation over time and in different settings. There are many to choose from. For a comparative overview of the worldviews and ethical imperatives that underpin biodiversity conservation, Callicott 1997 is a good starting point, while Castree 2005 provides an excellent critical introduction to concepts of nature and the role of geography in shaping our understandings of these. Wilson 1988 is the seminal text on biodiversity. By quantifying the rate of biodiversity loss and establishing the vital contribution of biodiversity to society and economies, this book was instrumental in raising the policy profile of biodiversity conservation. Daily 1997 develops the economic arguments for biodiversity conservation and underpins the influential new ecosystem services dimension of biodiversity conservation. Sodhi and Ehrlich 2010 is a highly regarded conservation biology textbook that summarizes the science of biodiversity, while Ladle and Whittaker 2011 provides an overview of the contribution of biogeography to the subject. As yet there is no synthesis of the mechanisms through which conservationists build and extend influence and the political dimensions of this. Overviews on this topic are contained in general texts on environmental governance, policy, and/or politics. Axlerod, et al. 2011 provides a good introduction to the international institutions that conservation bodies work with and have coproduced.

  • Axelrod, Regina, Stacy VanDeveer, and David Downie, eds. The Global Environment: Institutions, Law, and Policy. 3d ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011.

    The standard introduction to international environmental institutions. A collection of essays provide historical context and summarize key scholarship and issues. This book places biodiversity conservation in its wider institutional and legal context. Chapters on climate change policy, commodity chains, and the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in environmental governance provide particularly useful background for key themes in biodiversity conservation.

  • Callicott, Baird, J. Earth’s Insights: A Multicultural Survey of Ecological Ethics from the Mediterranean Basin to the Australian Outback. London: University of California Press, 1997.

    A scholarly exploration of the ecological teachings in the world’s major religions that seeks to both position the Western focus of contemporary environmental ethics and explore how diverse environmental philosophies can be brought together in a complementary and consistent whole.

  • Castree, Noel. Nature. London: Routledge, 2005.

    This book pushes readers to reflect on their conceptions of nature and examine the agendas that lie behind competing framings of what is natural. It explains the different ways physical and human geographers have approached the topic and shows how these different ideas influence how different groups act, or don’t act, in relation to different aspects of nature.

  • Daily, Gretchen. C., ed. Nature’s Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems. Washington, DC: Island Press, 1997.

    A landmark book, comprising twenty chapters by leading scientists, that makes the economic argument for biodiversity and ecosystem conservation. It introduces concepts and categorizations of ecosystems services and valuation that have since come to both define the field and underpin the current view that it is economic valuations that will ultimately convince politicians and business leaders to take seriously the conservation of biodiversity.

  • Ladle, Richard, and Robert J. Whittaker. Conservation Biogeography. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444390001

    This book provides the first comprehensive review of the subdiscipline of conservation biogeography, which uses the conceptual tools and methods of biogeography to address real-world conservation problems and to provide predictions about the fate of key species and ecosystems. It contains valuable chapters on the social values and worldviews underpinning conservation biogeography, on patterns and distributions of biodiversity, and on protected area planning.

  • Sodhi, Navjot, S., and Paul R. Ehrlich. Conservation Biology for All. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199554232.001.0001

    An up-to-date conservation biology textbook with chapters on the range of key topics in biodiversity conservation by leading authorities.

  • Wilson, Edward O., ed. Biodiversity. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 1988.

    Based on the 1986 National Forum on Biodiversity convened under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, this influential book presents authoritative accounts on the links between biodiversity, societies, and economies. It set the scene for the “mainstreaming” of biodiversity in international development during the 1990s.

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