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Reciprocal Contributions between People and Nature: A Conceptual Intervention

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Throughout human history, Indigenous and local communities have stewarded nature. In the present article, we revisit the ancestral principle of reciprocity between people and nature and consider it as a conceptual intervention to the current notion of ecosystem services commonly used to inform sustainability transformation. We propose the concept of reciprocal contributions to encompass actions, interactions, and experiences between people and other components of nature that result in positive contributions and feedback loops that accrue to both, directly or indirectly, across different dimensions and levels. We identify reciprocal contributions and showcase examples that denote the importance of reciprocity for our ecological legacy and its relevance for biocultural continuity. We suggest that the concept of reciprocal contribution can support transformation pathways by resituating people as active components of nature and restructuring institutions so that ethical principles and practices from Indigenous and local communities can redirect policy approaches and interventions worldwide.
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https://academic.oup.com/bioscience XXXX XXXX / Vol. XX No. XX BioScience 1
Reciprocal Contributions between
People and Nature: A Conceptual
Intervention
JAIME OJEDA , ANNE K. SALOMON, JAMES K. ROWE, AND NATALIE C. BAN
Throughout human history, Indigenous and local communities have stewarded nature. In the present article, we revisit the ancestral principle
of reciprocity between people and nature and consider it as a conceptual intervention to the current notion of ecosystem services commonly
used to inform sustainability transformation. We propose the concept of reciprocal contributions to encompass actions, interactions, and
experiences between people and other components of nature that result in positive contributions and feedback loops that accrue to both, directly
or indirectly, across different dimensions and levels. We identify reciprocal contributions and showcase examples that denote the importance
of reciprocity for our ecological legacy and its relevance for biocultural continuity. We suggest that the concept of reciprocal contribution can
support transformation pathways by resituating people as active components of nature and restructuring institutions so that ethical principles
and practices from Indigenous and local communities can redirect policy approaches and interventions worldwide.
Keywords: reciprocity, empathy, stewardship, sustainability, biodiversity conservation
“What we do about ecology depends on our ideas of
the [hu]man–nature relationship.
—Lynn White (1967, p. 1206)
The world is facing a sustainability crisis that is
due in part to our unidirectional relationship with
nature, whereby humans extract resources and benefit
from them with few, if any, responsibilities and little, if any,
accountability to sustain nature (Dempsey 2016). However,
there are many examples in history and across cultures of
diverse people–nature relationships, where reciprocity is a
core element of people's worldviews about nature (e.g., Rozzi
etal. 2008). In this article, we revisit the ancestral principle
of people–nature reciprocity practiced by different com-
munities, including Indigenous, local, urban, periurban, and
rural. We also seek to contribute to this dialogue and explore
people–nature reciprocity as a conceptual intervention into
the currently unidirectional nature–people relationships
that remain dominant in theory and practice, in order
to support policies that catalyze transformative pathways
toward sustainability.
Multiple frameworks have been deployed in efforts
to reconceptualize the nature–people relationship and
improve sustainability outcomes. For example, the ecosys-
tem service framework—the benefits people obtain from
ecosystems—has been developed to change how com-
munities view and value natural resources (Costanza etal.
2017). But there is scant evidence that the ecosystem ser-
vices framework has improved biodiversity conservation
outcomes (Dempsey 2016). Recently, Diaz and colleagues
(2018) proposed a shift from ecosystem services to nature's
contributions to people (NCP), incorporating broader and
more inclusive perspectives of nature–people relationships.
The NCP framework encompasses “all the positive contribu-
tions, losses or detriments, that people obtain from nature
to understand the beneficial and harmful effects of nature
(Díaz et al. 2018, p. 270). The NCP framework emerged
from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on
Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which was
established by the United Nations (Díaz et al. 2018). The
framework has roots in the social sciences, biocultural diver-
sity, and Indigenous or local perspectives (Díaz etal. 2018).
Despite their differences, however, both the ecosystem
services and NCP frameworks emphasize a unidirectional
flow of nature–people relationships, from nature's services
or contributions to people (Comberti et al. 2015, Kenter
2018). The supplemental material in the NCP article men-
tions subtly that, in some cases, the relationship between
nature and people is highly reciprocal (Díaz etal. 2018), and
recently, there have been developments to better incorpo-
rate reciprocity into the NCP framework (see below). We
BioScience XX: 1–11. © Crown copyright 2022. This article contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0
(http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3/)
https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biac053
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... There is a growing interest in encouraging and enabling people to manage biodiversity in ways that are appropriate to retaining ecosystem function. Effective ecosystem function will allow for the delivery of ecosystem services/nature's contributions to people, in a range of settings from protected areas to urban environments (see reciprocity, Ojeda et al., 2022). This thinking inevitably requires a change from efforts to save threatened species from extinction, to efforts seeking to ensure ecosystem resilience. ...
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