Biocultural assessment of critical weight range mammals in north-east Arnhem Land, Australia
Rapid declines in biological and cultural diversity are occurring across the globe, highlighting the opportunity and need to conserve connected ‘biocultural’ diversity. Following European colonization in 1788, Australia has had one of the world’s worst records in biocultural diversity decline. Today, only 13 from 250 Indigenous languages are considered strong; and 100 endemic species have gone extinct, with over a thousand species listed as threatened. Across Australia, land is increasingly being handed back to Indigenous Traditional Owners, and Indigenous Protected Areas comprise 44% of Australia’s National Reserve System. Despite significant investments in Indigenous land management, there is a paucity of research that respectfully combines Indigenous knowledge and Western science to address Australia’s biocultural decline. This thesis aims to address this gap through a collaboration between the author and the Yirralka Rangers from the Laynhapuy Indigenous Protected Area, north-east Arnhem Land. We documented and mapped Indigenous knowledge of six mammal species in the critical weight range: Isoodon macrourus, Trichosurus vulpecula, Dasyurus hallucatus, Sminthopsis virginae, Mesmbriomys gouldii, and Melomys burtoni. Combining Indigenous knowledge and Western science, species distribution models for two well-known and culturally significant species (wan’kurra (I. macourus) and marrŋu (T. v. arnhemensis)) were produced. Our cross-cultural assessment of critical weight range mammals showed that despite some species being considered of least concern from a Western conservation perspective, Indigenous knowledge holders had not seen them in recent times, suggesting the need for a more inclusive and holistic approach to assessment of species conservation status, especially on Indigenous owned and managed lands. Indigenous knowledge holders maintained stronger knowledge of species with cultural significance demonstrating links between biological and cultural knowledge and conservation. This project showed that efforts to understand and address biocultural diversity, in partnership with Indigenous knowledge holders, offers a new transformative approach to biocultural conservation in Australia.