Endangered Species Languages Linked at High Biodiversity Regions

Without cultural and linguistic diversity, which increasingly appears to be tied to biological diversity, biodiversity loss likely will continue at alarming rates.

Species variety within a community is an essential part of maintaining a well-balanced ecosystem as homogenization results in a loss of biodiversity.

Regions become increasingly alike when the same species of fauna and flora exist in numerous regions, as the land becomes used in a similar manner. When communities operate in their home language, knowledge is precisely shared, with no successful conservation methods lost in translation.

Native people understand their environment, as well as ways to use fauna and flora sufficiently, and when homogenization occurs, useful information is unnecessarily replaced.

Biodiversity and Linguistic Diversity

Biodiversity hot spots (the world's biologically richest and most threatened locations on Earth) and high biodiversity wilderness areas (biologically rich but less threatened) are some of the most linguistically diverse regions on our planet, according to a team of conservationists.

"Results indicate that these regions - hot spots and high biodiversity wilderness areas - often contain considerable linguistic diversity, accounting for 70 percent of all languages on Earth," the researchers report in the May 2012 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Moreover, the languages involved frequently are unique to particular regions, with many facing extinction."

"Paul Ehrlich likened the loss of species to removing the rivets in a plane's wings," said Larry J. Gorenflo, associate professor of landscape architecture, Penn State. "How many rivets can you remove before the wing falls off and the plane falls out of the sky? Similarly, how many species can you lose before an ecosystem fails? Unfortunately, stopping species loss in a world of 7 billion people is extremely challenging." We conducted this study to understand more about the people living in areas important for biodiversity conservation.

"Previous research indicated a connection between language diversity and biodiversity, but the datasets were geographically imprecise.

Conservation International used recently-compiled global data showing the geographic locations of more than 6,900 languages compiled for geographic information system (GIS) applications by Global Mapping International.

"We looked at regions important for biodiversity conservation and measured their linguistic diversity in an effort to understand an important part of the human dimension of these regions," said Gorenflo. Comprising only 2.3% of the Earth's surface, intact habitats in the 35 hotspots contain more than half the world's vascular plants, and 43% of terrestrial vertebrate species. In these 35 hotspots, the researchers found 3,202 languages - nearly half of all languages spoken on Earth.

They also examined linguistic diversity in five high biodiversity wilderness areas, whose remaining habitat covers about 6.1 percent of the Earth's surface and contains about 17 percent of the vascular plant species and six percent of the terrestrial vertebrate species. These regions contained another 1,622 languages.

As in the case of the hotspots, many languages are unique to particular areas and are spoken by relatively few people, making them susceptible to extinction.

Losing Biodiversity

"What ends up happening when we lose linguistic diversity is we lose a bunch of small groups with traditional economics," said Gorenflo. "Indigenous languages tend to be replaced by those associated with a modern industrial economy accompanied by other changes such as the introduction of chain saws. In terms of biodiversity conservation, all bets are off.

"If losing species biodiversity is like losing rivets from an airplane, losing languages can also have a profound effect. According to Gorenflo, losing these languages can lead to the loss of a lot of environmental information that becomes inaccessible as the words, culture and language disappear.

"I think it argues for concerted conservation efforts that are integrated and try to maintain biodiversity and cultural diversity," said Gorenflo.

He suggests that without cultural and linguistic diversity, which increasingly appears to be tied to biological diversity, biodiversity loss likely will continue at alarming rates.

"In many cases it appears that conditions that wipe out species wipe out languages," said Gorenflo.

The researchers do not know why areas of endangered species concentration and endangered languages coexist. Possibly indigenous cultures, supported by their languages, create the conditions to maintain species and keep the ecosystems working.

Biodiversity Monitoring Techniques

Biodiversity is often monitored by repeated observation or measurement in the form of surveys to determine status and trend. This process of studying the changes in biodiversity is called biodiversity monitoring and this can be done according to various techniques.

These techniques rely heavily on indicators, as biodiversity can become very complex and insufficient knowledge exists on certain topics. Indicators can be monitored and sorted according to (presence or absence of an indicator species) or quantitative (abundance or population density of a species, distribution area of a habitat, number of typical species in the habitat, etc.).


Biodiversity Monitoring

Kruger National Park - South African Safari