Main content area

Co-occurrence of linguistic and biological diversity in biodiversity hotspots and high biodiversity wilderness areas

Gorenflo, L. J., Romaine, Suzanne, Mittermeier, Russell A., Walker-Painemilla, Kristen
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2012 v.109 no.21 pp. 8032-8037
biodiversity, biologists, conservation areas, data collection, endangered species, extinction, languages, protected species, wilderness
As the world grows less biologically diverse, it is becoming less linguistically and culturally diverse as well. Biologists estimate annual loss of species at 1,000 times or more greater than historic rates, and linguists predict that 50–90% of the world’s languages will disappear by the end of this century. Prior studies indicate similarities in the geographic arrangement of biological and linguistic diversity, although conclusions have often been constrained by use of data with limited spatial precision. Here we use greatly improved datasets to explore the co-occurrence of linguistic and biological diversity in regions containing many of the Earth’s remaining species: biodiversity hotspots and high biodiversity wilderness areas. Results indicate that these regions often contain considerable linguistic diversity, accounting for 70% of all languages on Earth. Moreover, the languages involved are frequently unique (endemic) to particular regions, with many facing extinction. Likely reasons for co-occurrence of linguistic and biological diversity are complex and appear to vary among localities, although strong geographic concordance between biological and linguistic diversity in many areas argues for some form of functional connection. Languages in high biodiversity regions also often co-occur with one or more specific conservation priorities, here defined as endangered species and protected areas, marking particular localities important for maintaining both forms of diversity. The results reported in this article provide a starting point for focused research exploring the relationship between biological and linguistic–cultural diversity, and for developing integrated strategies designed to conserve species and languages in regions rich in both.