Stockholm university

Research project BIOrdinary

Biodiversity dilemmas in ordinary places

BIOrdinary expands our understanding of biodiversity by focusing on places marked by habitation, trade and agriculture. Essential to our needs for food, shelter and resources, these ordinary places currently fall outside global biodiversity agendas. We explore biodiversity dilemmas in five ordinary places that involve migrant species - tea plants, mosquitos, fish, oysters and mink. Researching the intertwined social and biological histories leading up to these dilemmas and local communities engagement with these crises, BIOrdinary asks: what would a more just and democratic biodiversity agenda entail?

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BIOrdinary Research Program (295 Kb)

Project description

BIOrdinary expands the current biodiversity agenda, moving away from protected hotspots to explore how people in ordinary places address everyday biodiversity dilemmas driven by species influxes and climate change. It goes about this in three ways: 

  1. By writing environmental histories that uncover the entangled social and cultural processes underlying species mobility and shifts in biodiversity.
  2. By examining vernacular understandings and adaptation practices among local communities and other stakeholders at the frontline of biodiversity dilemmas, as opposed to previous research’s focus on suffering, loss, and crisis.
  3. By contributing to the formulation of a more just, democratic and inclusive biodiversity agenda.


The missing 70%

Current biodiversity agendas aim to protect 30 percent of the surface of the planet, largely in ecological hotspots. BIOrdinary turns attention to the missing 70 percent. With the help of anthropological tools, we explore the shifts in biodiversity in ordinary places, marked by human activity. 


Case studies: species on the move

The project’s five empirical case studies explore biodiversity dilemmas involving species influxes tied to colonial histories. The case studies underline how the trajectories of migrant species are entangled with imperial sea routes and domestication processes. Scapegoated by global biodiversity protection, these species are integrated into environments and social. Political and economic life. There are no easy answers or quick fixes to the biodiversity dilemmas evolving in these places.
Global warming has added a new dimension to environments with migrant species. Due to differences in genetical makeup, alien and endemic species react differently to climate-induced changes. Some species thrive, others suffer. We cannot rule out that migrant species will survive future heatwaves, while local species perish.

The program thus sets out to explore biodiversity in ordinary places across five ethnographic case-studies where recent biodiversity shifts can be attributed to a combination of climate change, imperial debris and shipping route infrastructure.

- Case 1: Traveling Tea Plants in East Africa, Bengt G Karlsson

British settlers brought the Assam tea plant from India to East Africa, turning dense forests into monocultural plantations. Climate change and plant breeding reducing the tea species’ genetic diversity have now made these plantations highly vulnerable. Tea plants have also escaped into nearby forest and become ”invasive”.

- Case 2: Emergent Ecologies in the Mediterranean Sea, Karin Ahlberg

The Mediterranean Sea is undergoing one of the world’s largest marine transformation. The Suez Canal, dug to shorten the route between East and West, has become a “highway” for tropical marine species (jellyfish, rabbitfish, crustacea and algae), in search of new habitats.

- Case 3: ‘Invasive’ Mosquitos in Southeast Asia, Tomas Cole

Aedes aegypti mosquitos, originally from Africa, are a highly effective vector of dengue and zika that are increasingly making urban Singapore their home. However, large-scale technoscientific projects to eradicate this ‘invader’ in the name of public health run the risk of also catastrophically reducing biodiversity.

- Case 4: Migrant Pacific Oysters on the West Coast of Sweden, Ivana Maček

These mollusks, imported from Pacific Ocean to aquafarms in Europe, escaped these facilities hitchhiking on warmer sea-currents to Western shores of Sweden. Accused of outcompeting local species and being a nuisance to the leisure industry, they are also a potential new marine nutrient.

- Case 5: Runaway Mink in the Stockholm Archipelago, Erica von Essen

Mink was first brought to Sweden from North America for the commercial exploitation of their fur in the 1920s, before they absconded from captivity or were released by people. Mink now threaten the diversity of several native species, particularly birds, in the Swedish archipelago.


Imperial routes

Transatlantic trade and colonial cultivation practices set in motion global sociobiological processes that unevenly redrew the map of human/non-human relations. In this project we examine their aftermath: the life trajectories of species displayed by trade, infrastructural projects, domestication, plantations and aquaculture.


The trial of species

How we talk about new species in our environment influences our responses to them. Mobile species have their own histories. Some moved of their own accord. Others were brought along by humans or hitched a ride on infrastructural projects and international trade.

What responsibility do we have for migrant species? Should we eradicate them to protect native species or learn to live with them? Who decides when a migrant species is an intruder or a climate regufee?


Biodiversity for whom?

The larger aim of BIOrdinary is to formulate a more just, inclusive and democratic biodiversity agenda, based on local understandings and practices that involve living with migrant species and multispecies justice.

Project members

Project managers

Karin Ahlberg


Department of Social Anthropology
Karin Ahlbergo

Bengt G Karlsson


Department of Social Anthropology


Gabriel Lennon

PhD student

Department of Social Anthropology

Emma Rose Cyr

PhD student

Department of Social Anthropology

Catrine Ljungström


Department of Social Anthropology

Erica von Essen

Associate Professor

Department of Social Anthropology

Tomas Cole


Department of Social Anthropology
Stockholm w. cockroaches

Ivana Macek

Associate Professor

Department of Social Anthropology



More about this project

Project overview

  Work packages Research objectives Focus & approaches

WP1: Perspectives

More-than-human histories of species mobility

1. Documenting unique species trajectories, and environmental and social histories leading up to biodiversity dilemmas
  • Social, cultural and biogeographical processes
  • Species mobility, imperial trade and agricultural expansion
  • Historical and ethnographic research in field sites
  • Archival research and literature review

WP2: Practices

Vernacular understandings

2. Understanding diverse communities' engagements with unfolding shifts in biodiversity
  • Learning with and from affected communities: understandings, practices, adjustments and sollutions: protecting, 'living with' and eradication
  • Ethnographic research: residents, civil society, public actors, scientific communities and the private sector



WP3: Policy

Democratizing biodiversity

3. Envisioning a more just, inclusive and democratic biodiversity agenda
  • Problematizing biodiversity
  • Dialogue with stakeholders, affected communities and the public
  • Findings from WP1 and WP2, outreach activities and summer schools


Project activities

  • Co-edited volume
  • Peer-reviewed articles
  • Conference participation
  • Seminar series
  • Reading groups
  • Workshops in the field
  • Yearly summer schools
  • Participation in cultural and artistic projects
  • co-authoring a children's book