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© The Ecological Society of America. We believe that conservation practice is sometimes inhibited by misguided respect for the cultural background in which conservation problems occur. This respect may be rooted in a philosophical standpoint asserting that culturally distinct values cannot be objectively judged against one another, and that those values are therefore equally valid. Here we consider the influence of this school of thought, known as "moral relativism", in the context of the moral basis for biodiversity conservation as it is currently understood. We provide examples - in wildlife consumption, land management, and tolerance for releasing invasive species - where we suspect that such relativism has been influential. Although pragmatic constraints associated with human cultures may limit action for achieving conservation goals, we suggest that there are compelling arguments for the advocacy of universal principles, based on science, to protect biodiversity for current and future generations of people.

Original publication




Journal article


Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

Publication Date





325 - 331