Correspondence | Published:

Speaking different languages on biodiversity

Nature volume 443, page 506 (05 October 2006) | Download Citation



Interdisciplinary conferences such as BioEcon (Biodiversity and Economics for Conservation), whose eighth meeting “Economic Analysis of Ecology and Biodiversity” has just finished, provide much-needed forums to cultivate the scientific collaborations on which mutual understanding depends. Economic context, in particular, is essential for understanding and reducing the ongoing pressures on biodiversity, as well as for developing successful, cost-effective and equitable conservation actions.

As conservation biologists at BioEcon, we were not expecting to be familiar with the intricacies of economic models. But we had failed to anticipate the differences in vocabulary in what we presumed to be common ground between our disciplines. Presentations on 'agricultural biodiversity', for example, turned out to be about crop and livestock genetic diversity, rather than, as conservation biologists would expect, on the diversity of wildlife associated with agricultural fields. In another example, the term 'statistical dichotomy' was used in place of our familiar 'binary variables'.

We were thus amused to read in “100 years ago” (Nature 442, 989; 2006) an accurate description of communication difficulties between scientific disciplines: “progress is not a little hampered by the fact that chemists and physicists cannot wander through the museums of nature in complete sympathy with one another... a confusion of language has arisen which keeps us apart”. The world's threatened biodiversity cannot wait another 100 years for biologists and economists to overcome their language barriers.

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  1. *Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London NW1 4RY, UK

    • R. M. Ewers
  2. †Conservation Science Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK

    • R. M. Ewers
    •  & A. S. L. Rodrigues


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