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The state-of-the-art and future research directions on sacred forests and ecosystem services


The importance of forests in providing a healthy environment and good quality of life for people is crucial. Sacred forests, in particular, play a significant role in the social and ecological aspects of life. Despite numerous studies and reports on the subject, there is a lack of an up-to-date and comprehensive analysis of research on sacred forests and their ecosystem services. Our review looked at 2811 papers from the Scopus database using keyword selection. After screening, 214 papers were used for bibliometric analysis to assess the research trends and distribution of studies done on the contribution of sacred forests to various ecosystem services. Seventy-seven publications focusing on cultural ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, and carbon accumulation that met our eligibility criteria were chosen for detailed analysis of the methodological flows and gaps in the literature. The results revealed that studies on the subject are increasing, notably in developing countries. However, very limited investigations can be observed in the urban context. Furthermore, we discovered that most studies used field surveys to grasp sacred forests’ ecological aspects. While this technique gave a thorough understanding of the forests, future research should use a combination of methods, including remote sensing, geospatial analysis, and social surveys, to better understand the forests and the ecosystem services they provide. Future studies ought to evaluate the multiple regulative services and non-material benefits of sacred forests to ensure long-term human well-being and provide scientific proof for acknowledging and conserving these critical places are required particularly in urban landscapes. Overall, more research is required to comprehend these gaps in a broader context and enhance our overall view of conservation and sociocultural significance, both of which are critical for long-term practice.

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Data generated or analysed during the study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request


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Author contribution

All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Data collection, visualisation and analysis were performed by AM and MS. The first draft of the manuscript was written by AM. Review and editing were done by JPI, and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Alebel Melaku.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Melaku, A., Ivars, J.P. & Sahle, M. The state-of-the-art and future research directions on sacred forests and ecosystem services. Environmental Management (2023).

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  • Conservation
  • Ecosystem services
  • Biocultural benefits
  • Biodiversity
  • Culturally protected forests
  • Cultural landscapes