Biodiversity Conservation and Livelihoods in Human-Dominated Landscapes: Forest Commons in South Asia
Strict protected areas are a critical component in global biodiversity conservation, but the future of biodiversity conservation may well depend upon the ability to experiment successfully with a range of institutional forms, including those that permit human use. Here, we focus on forest commons in human dominated landscapes and their role in biodiversity conservation at the same time as they provide livelihood benefits to users. Using a dataset of 59 forest commons located in Bhutan, India, and Nepal, we estimated tree species richness from plot vegetation data collected in each forest, and drew on interview data to calculate a livelihoods index indicating the overall contribution of each forest to villager livelihoods for firewood, fodder, and timber. We found that tree species richness and livelihoods were positively and significantly correlated (rho = .41, p < 0.001, N = 59). This relationship held regardless of forest type or country, though significance varied somewhat across these two factors. Further, both benefits were similarly associated with several drivers of social-ecological change (e.g., occupational diversity of forest users, total number of users, and forest size), suggesting identification of potential synergies and complexes of causal mechanisms for future attention. Our analysis shows that forest commons in South Asia, explicitly managed to provide livelihoods for local populations, also provide biodiversity benefits. More broadly, our findings suggest that although strict protected areas are effective tools for biodiversity conservation, a singular focus on them risks ignoring other resource governance approaches that can fruitfully complement existing conservation regimes.
Persha, L., H. Fischer, A. Chhatre, A. Aragwal, C. Benson. 2010. Biological Conservation 143(12):2918-2925