The CBC's Biocultural Approach

The complexity of today’s global environmental and social challenges calls for innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to policy and action. At the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (CBC) of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), we engage in approaches to managing land and seascapes that explicitly start with and build on local values, knowledge systems, and needs, and recognize the interconnections and feedbacks between people and nature. Through our efforts, we aim to center local realities and bridge disconnects between local, national, and global efforts to sustainably manage resources for healthy human and ecological communities.

Across our projects, we are developing indicators and frameworks for indicators that accurately reflect local realities and can be useful to inform ongoing efforts at local, regional, and global scales. For instance, at the global level, we are working to understand how people and organizations are currently using biocultural indicators or other metrics that span social, ecological, and cultural dimensions. Specifically, we explore what works best under what conditions, and where there are knowledge gaps or areas for further strengthening.

We are constantly expanding our conceptual thinking on the topic and value opportunities to create a shared space for learning and exchange on locally and culturally attuned monitoring and reporting indicators, including identifying common challenges and potential solutions.

Men working together in the field in the Solomon Islands
Garden survey with local partners in Zaira, Solomon Island, assessing soil health and pest abundance and training community rangers in research techniques. 
© Joe McCarter CBC/AMNH

What are the CBC and partners doing?

We believe that learning from each other through communities of practice can be a powerful way to strengthen action. To this end we convene groups, provide platforms to share resources, and work on-site in selected areas to foster exchanges. Overall, our aim is to provide guidance on how to better articulate the complex connections between people and nature through a series of outputs.

For over a decade, we have successfully co-organized and/or presented in virtual and in-person convenings with Indigenous and local community groups on the topics of well-being, resilience, and adaptation. Most recently this includes launching a Biannual Webinar Series on Indicators of Well-being, which builds on our work with the global Action Group on Knowledge Systems and Indicators of Well-being and a subsequent Indicator Gathering in 2019.

Together with our network of global colleagues and collaborators, we share our lessons learned, challenges, and successes at global sustainability fora, through peer-reviewed publications, and through publicly available reports. We also amplify our management and policy-related findings, which are based on our experience and lessons learned from others, by developing policy briefs for environmental decision-makers and funding bodies.

Resources and Publications

Indicators of Well-being Webinar Series. 2019. ‘Fall 2019 Session’ Video recording of the Fall 2019 webinar session organized by the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, 11 October 2019, New York City, American Museum of Natural History.

Indicator Gathering. 2019. ‘Meeting Overview (English and Russian translations)’ Highlights from a practitioner gathering convened by the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, 19-20 April 2019, New York City, American Museum of Natural History.

Dacks R, Ticktin T, Mawyer A, Caillon S, Claudet J, Fabre P, Jupiter S, McCarter J, Mejia M, Pascua P, Sterling EJ, Wongbusarakum S. 2019. Developing biocultural indicators for resource management. Conservation Science and Practice.

McCarter J, Sterling EJ, Jupiter S, Cullman G, Albert S, Basi M, Betley E, Boseto D, Bulehite E, Fred B, Haroni R, Holland P, Horning N, Hughes A, Jino N, Malone C, Mauli S, Pae B, Papae R, Rence F, Revo O, Taqala E, Taqu M, Woltz H, Filardi C. Eds: L. Gunderson and C. Folke. 2018. Biocultural approaches to developing well-being indicators in Solomon Islands. Ecology and Society 23(1):32.

The Action Group on Knowledge Systems and Indicators of Well-being. 2018. ‘Meeting Overview (English, Russian, French, and Spanish translations).’ Highlights from a practitioner gathering convened by the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, 21-22 April 2018, New York City, American Museum of Natural History.

Caillon S, Cullman G, Verschuuren B, Sterling EJ. 2017. Moving beyond the human-nature dichotomy through biocultural approaches: including ecological well-being in resilience indicators. Ecology and Society 22 (4): 27.

Sterling EJ, Filardi C, Toomey A, Sigouin A, Betley E, Gazit N, Newell J, Albert S, Alvira D, Bergamini N, Blair ME, Boseto D, Burrows K, Bynum N, Caillon S, Caselle JE, Claudet J, Cullman G, Dacks R, Eyzaguirre PB, Gray S, Herrera J, Kenilorea P, Kinney K, Kurashima N, Macey S, Malone C, Mauli S, McCarter J, McMillen H, Pascua P, Pikacha P, Porzecanski AL, de Robert P, Salpeteur M, Sirikolo M, Stege MH, Stege K, Ticktin T, Vave R, Wali A, West P, Winter KB, Jupiter SD. 2017. Biocultural approaches to well-being and sustainability indicators across scales. Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Sterling EJ, Ticktin T, Morgan K, Cullman G, Alvira D, Andrade P, Bergamini N, Betley E, Burrows K, Caillon S, Claudet J, Dacks R, Eyzaguirre P, Filardi C, Gazit N, Giardina N, Jupiter S, Kinney K, McCarter J, Mejia M, Morishige K, Newell J, Noori L, Parks J, Pascua P, Ravikumar A, Tanguay J, Sigouin A, Stege MH, Stege K, Wali A. 2017. Culturally Grounded Indicators of Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems. Environment and Society: Advances in Research. Special issue on Measurement and Metrics. Volume 8, Issue 1, p 63-95.  

The CBC's work on biocultural indicators is led by Chief Conservation Scientist Dr. Eleanor Sterling. Visit here for an expanded list of the CBC’s publications.