Evol Ecol Res 5: 517-527 (2003)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Nothing has yet lasted forever: current and threatened levels of biological and cultural diversity

Lisa L. Manne*

Centre for Biodiversity Research, University of British Columbia, 6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada

Address all correspondence to Lisa Manne, Biogeography and Conservation Laboratory, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK.
e-mail: l.manne@nhm.ac.uk


We still do not understand why some areas are more biologically diverse than others. There are broad generalities over large scales, but each group of species has its own idiosyncrasies: historical, evolutionary and environmental factors that combine to effect the distribution of diversity that we observe. Some of these factors may be similar for some groups of species, and this similarity will be reflected in like distributions for those groups. However, ‘biodiversity’ applies both within species and between species, but comparisons of biodiversity patterns between and within species have rarely been done. Distribution information for our own species, humans, is available, and we can examine the within-species diversity pattern of human cultures across the landscape. I use number of languages as a proxy for cultural diversity and I compare the within-species biodiversity pattern for humans to that for Passeriform birds, across species. At a coarse resolution I find spatial concordance between the two over large areas in Central and South America, which cannot be explained by a single shared mechanism of resource dependence for the two groups: different combinations of environmental variables result in high or low diversity for birds and languages. The concordance between birds and languages weakens at finer scales, which highlights the different scales at which these two groups operate. Finally, it has been suggested that processes that remove cultural diversity might also threaten species. However, I find that where there are more threatened cultures there are few threatened species. This might be explained by the genocides perpetrated in Central and South America before many languages were adequately documented. While the analogy between biodiversity and cultural diversity cannot be general for all scales and areas, given the immense differences in history and various other factors, the correspondence observed across and within species in these two groups is remarkable.

Keywords: biodiversity, cultural diversity, language diversity, threatened languages, threatened species.

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