The three-year EU-funded project entitled “Assessing the effectiveness of community-based management strategies for biocultural diversity conservation” (COMBIOSERVE) concluded on 14 January 2015 having generated significant evidence regarding the challenges and opportunities of community-based conservation in Latin America. Through multi-disciplinary research carried out in selected fieldsites in Mexico, Brazil and Bolivia, the project sought to assess the effectiveness of community-based strategies for biocultural diversity conservation. A consortium of ten institutions composed of European and Latin American research institutions and civil society organisations (CSOs) led the research. Results indicate that community wellbeing, recognition of rights and biodiversity conservation intersect under given conditions.

COMBIOSERVE established an explicit ‘co-enquiry’ approach: as far as possible, research activities were implemented in direct collaboration between locally elected community researchers, the local CSO and the research institutions, and communities established themes of research that were of particular interest to them for the collection of baseline data, such as agricultural pests, biodiversity monitoring and traditional stories and myths.


The project collected ethnographic and survey data on people’s changing relationships with the environment, established participatory biodiversity monitoring programmes, and assessed past and present land use change in areas under community conservation and, in conjunction, households’ changing capacity to adapt to multiple stressors. A participatory process of future scenario-building engaged partner communities in an exploration of their future conservation and development options. COMBIOSERVE also explored the impact of institutional and governance contexts on community conservation and, through natural resource extraction games and choice experiments, the enabling factors for successful community-based management.

COMBIOSERVE found that the social-ecological changes and external interventions desired by communities are intimately related to their current socio-economic and vulnerability conditions, and particularly to those conditions limiting people’s wellbeing. This is the case when indigenous peoples’ or rural communities’ territories suffer colonisation, pressure to convert to alternative land uses and increases in population densities, which also intensifies pressure on biodiversity. The project concludes that community composition, specifically group heterogeneity, the perceived legitimacy of nature conservation and incentives for self-enforcement are key factors for effective community-based conservation. Participatory mapping and co-enquiry were highlighted as key elements in leveraging improved community-based management, given that when communities are in control of the research process, local interest in conservation efforts can significantly increase. These approaches also permit collaborative visualisation, analysis and discussion of social and ecological issues of community territories.

Project outcomes include targeted policy briefs, scientific publications and reports, methods manuals on co-enquiry, participatory mapping and community rapid biodiversity assessments, a paradidactic brochure, and field identification guides for community-based biodiversity monitoring. The project also produced a series of videos, including participatory videos on project activities and community issues, video letters for communications between field site communities, videos for sharing basic project aims, methods and community perspectives, and important events such as the final conference and longer video-documents to report on research results, such as on the link between land use change and community conservation and future scenarios of global change. The proceedings from the international COMBIOSERVE conference Community Conservation in Latin America: innovations in research and practice are under peer review for publication at the end of 2015.

If you are interested in learning more about COMBIOSERVE and its results, or contacting a member of the consortium, please contact project coordinator Christian Vogl on


Quick links: Programme Reports    |    Protecting Biocultural Diversity, International Innovation Magazine (Research Media), Issue 151: Firm Foundations