How can we slow the world's biodiversity loss? Maybe it's time we turn to God, or Allah, or Ganesha for the answer. According to a new study, the most important conservation areas around the world correspond with the distribution of the world's top religions. Tapping into the basic beliefs and ethics of Christianity and other religions might therefore help to improve actions to preserve biodiversity.

"A greater involvement of religious communities in the conservation discourse, and a greater inclusion of conservation issues in religious ethics, could be beneficial for biodiversity," the authors write in their study, published Aug. 28 in the journal Oryx.

"Our study examines the spatial distribution of different religions in the world and how they overlap with areas important for biodiversity at a global scale," lead author Grzegorz Mikusinski from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SUAS) said in a press release. "Our analysis indicates that the majority of these focal areas are situated in countries dominated by Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism." Other areas of overlap include Southeast Asia (Buddhism), the Indian subcontinent (Hinduism) and large portions of Asia and Africa (Islam). You can see some of this distribution overlap in the maps below:

Co-author Malgorzata Blicharska, also with SUAS, said this information provides a new strategy for the scientists working to conserve the planet's dwindling biodiversity, who to date have mostly concentrated on working with governments and environmental non-governmental organizations. "Conservation scientists need to refocus on strategies that reshape ethical attitudes to nature and encourage pro-environmental thinking and lifestyles. Religions are central to basic beliefs and ethics that influence people's behavior and should be considered more seriously in biodiversity discourse."

In their paper the authors argue that government and NGO failure to conserve biodiversity has led to the creation of market-based approaches, such as cap-and-trade, but that just turns natural systems into quantities that can be exploited. (Forests become "agriculture" and schools of fish become "stocks.") The authors say that in addition to science- and market-based approaches, conservationists should also embrace strategies to "shape ethical attitudes and strive for more pro-environmental thinking and lifestyles amongst individuals and nations."

The authors came to their conclusion by studying the World Religions Database, which reports the percentage of people in various countries that adhere to the world's major religions. They then compared this to seven global biodiversity conservation priority templates, including areas of high biodiversity, crisis regions, key bird areas and frontier forests. They found large areas of overlap for all religions but particularly for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

There are limitations to this study, the authors say. The World Religions Database does not reflect religious distribution within a country and does not show trends. But they do say this is important evidence that "the conservation community, including researchers, should be more active in finding good arguments to engage religions in biodiversity conservation."

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