The cultural keystone concept: Insights from ecological anthropology

  • Platten S
  • Henfrey T
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The concept of the keystone species has a long history in ecological analysis, although its validity remains controversial. Anthropological researchers have recently coined the term cultural keystone species, but have not demonstrated any significant differences from existing treatments of culturally important species. We define cultural keystones according to their systemic function, as having essential roles in maintaining any level of complex-ity within a social-ecological system. Examples include bitter cassava consumption among lowland South American groups such as the Wapishana in Guyana, and commercial cultivation of carrots in Rurukan Village in Minahasa, Indonesia. These examples are both essential at one level of systemic reproduction: within the domestic and village economy in the cassava case, and carrots within regional markets. While each is centred upon a single biological species, the cultural keystone itself is not this species, but a complex incorporating several material and non-material system elements.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Biocultural diversity
  • Cultural keystone species
  • Cultural significance
  • Ethnobiology
  • Social-ecological systems

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  • Simon Platten

  • Thomas Henfrey

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