Indigenous biocultural knowledge in ecosystem science and management: Review and insight from Australia

Emilie J. Ens*, Petina Pert, Philip A. Clarke, Marita Budden, Lilian Clubb, Bruce Doran, Cheryl Douras, Jitendra Gaikwad, Beth Gott, Sonia Leonard, John Locke, Joanne Packer, Gerry Turpin, Steve Wason

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

169 Citations (Scopus)


Worldwide, environmental conservation directives are mandating greater inclusion of Indigenous people and their knowledge in the management of global ecosystems. Colonised countries such as the United States of America, New Zealand and Australia have responded with an array of policy and programs to enhance Indigenous involvement; however, balancing Indigenous and non-Indigenous priorities and preferred management methods is a substantial challenge. Using Australia as a case study, we investigate past documentation and use of Indigenous biocultural knowledge (IBK) and assess the main contributions to ecosystem science and management. Focussing on the terrestrial environment, this innovative paper presents an integrated review of IBK documentation (IBKD) by conducting a spatial, temporal and content analysis of the publically available literature. A spatial analysis of the place-based documents identified Australian IBKD hotspots, gaps and opportunities for further collaboration. Sixty percent of IBKD has occurred off the Indigenous estate with only 19% of the total coinciding with current Indigenous Protected Areas. We also found that IBKD hotspots were different to Australia's biodiversity hotspots suggesting opportunity for development of integrated biological and cultural hotspots. A temporal analysis of IBKD showed exponential growth since the 1970s and typical involvement of non-Indigenous researchers. Indigenous authorship remained negligible until the 1990s when there was an obvious increase, although only 14% of IBKD to date has acknowledged Indigenous authorship. Working through Australia's broad biological conservation priorities, we demonstrate how IBK has and can be used to inform research and management of biodiversity, threatened species, aquatic ecosystems, fire, invasive species, and climate change. We also synthesise documented suggestions for overcoming cross-cultural awareness and communication challenges between Indigenous people and biologists, environmental managers and policy makers. Lastly, we suggest that inclusion of both tangible and philosophical engagement of Indigenous people in national conservation agendas may promote more holistic socio-ecological systems thinking and facilitate greater progress towards addressing the Indigenous engagement directive of international conservation agreements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-149
Number of pages17
JournalBiological Conservation
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


Dive into the research topics of 'Indigenous biocultural knowledge in ecosystem science and management: Review and insight from Australia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this