Applied Working Group

Natural Resource Management Working Group

Applied Working Group team

Richard Berl, Principal Investigator
Co-Investigators: Michael Gavin, Jonathan Salerno, Eleanor Sterling†, Ugo Arbieu, Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares, Christopher Williams, Lily van Eeden, Kirsten Leong, Jonathan Fisk, Lisa Lehnen, Jonathan Long

Key information

Full title: Applying Cultural Evolutionary Science to Inform Decision-Making and Policy, Improve Social and Ecological Outcomes, and Adapt Processes and Institutions in Natural Resource Management and Conservation
Workshop: October 2023, Colorado State University, USA
Get involved: Membership in the working group is open on a continuing basis to all researchers, practitioners, and local affected groups with an interest in applying cultural evolutionary science to issues in natural resource management and conservation. As a group focused on cultural diversity, we value diversity at a deep structural level, and so we welcome and support a diverse global membership and diverse ways of knowing. Please contact Richard Berl at rberl/at/usgs/dot/gov for more information or to become a member of the working group.

Applied Working Group overview 

We live in an age when humans decide where wildlife are allowed to live and thrive. Though there are many different ways globally that people relate to the natural world, the government agencies and organizations responsible for conserving public lands, waters, and wildlife have tended to use the natural sciences and a focus on human benefit to make decisions about how the environment should be managed. These decisions rarely consider the importance of cultural beliefs and values in determining the acceptance and success of policy decisions, the value of cultural diversity for conservation goals, or the ways that those aspects of culture change over time.

Cottonwood trees line an arroyo pool below an Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling in Bears Ears National Monument in the United States. Bears Ears is a place of historic and present-day cultural significance to local Indigenous peoples, and is uniquely co-managed by a coalition of five Tribal Nations and two U.S. government agencies. – Photo taken by Bob Wick/BLM

Decades of research from cultural evolutionary science have great potential to inform conservation decisions and transform the processes and institutions that we use to make those decisions, leading to better outcomes for the diversity of peoples and places across the globe. The concept of cultural evolution is that the knowledge people learn about the world, and the ways that they learn it, change over time. This means that the cultures of today–and their collective knowledges, values, and practices–are all products of long histories of human interaction and lasting relationships with the lands, waters, and wildlife with which they have lived. Cultural evolution also implies that the environmental values and beliefs of today can differ from those held in the past and those of the future. An applied science of cultural evolution offers a new way of going about conservation: one centered on culture, the ways in which culture evolves and drives environmental behavior, and the impacts of conservation action on biological and cultural diversity.

Effectively and equitably managing our shared natural resources means acknowledging what the natural world represents for different people, what needs conserving, who benefits from conservation, and who bears the costs. Cultural evolution offers key insights about cultural influences on human behavior, the place of humans and human cultures in the natural world, and the cultural values embedded in our institutions and management decisions. In an uncertain future, cultural evolution is the key to anticipating and adapting to cultural and ecological change, sustaining positive relationships between humans and nature, and preserving our shared environment for future generations.


This working group has held two online workshops in March and June 2023, leading up to the final (hybrid) workshop in September 2023. Read an account of the online workshops, and the case studies they developed, here:


The third and final workshop took place in September in Fort Collins, Colorado, USA. Read an account of the workshop written by members of the grant team here:

AWG Contacts

If you would like to contact the project team, please email the grant management team in the first instance, at

Richard Berl: Twitter