Conservation Compromises: The MAB and the Legacy of the International Biological Program, 1964–1974

Simone Schleper*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article looks at the International Biological Program (IBP) as the predecessor of UNESCO’s well-known and highly successful Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB). It argues that international conservation efforts of the 1970s, such as the MAB, must in fact be understood as a compound of two opposing attempts to reform international conservation in the 1960s. The scientific framework of the MAB has its origins in disputes between high-level conservationists affiliated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) about what the IBP meant for the future of conservation. Their respective visions entailed different ecological philosophies as much as diverging sets of political ideologies regarding the global implementation of conservation. Within the IBP’s Conservation Section, one group propagated a universal systems approach to conservation with a centralized, technocratic management of nature and society by an elite group of independent scientific experts. Within IUCN, a second group based their notion of environmental expert roles on a more descriptive and local ecology of resource mapping as practiced by UNESCO. When the IBP came to an end in 1974, both groups’ ecological philosophies played into the scientific framework underlying the MAB’s World Network or Biosphere Reserves. The article argues that it is impossible to understand the course of conservation within the MAB without studying the dynamics and discourses between the two underlying expert groups and their respective visions for reforming conservation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-167
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of the History of Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017


  • International Biological Program
  • Max Nicholson
  • Raymond Dasmann
  • International Union for the Conservation of Nature
  • Man and the Biosphere Program

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