The value of accumulated ecological knowledge, termed ecoliteracy, is vital to both human and ecosystem health. Maintenance of this knowledge is essential for continued support of local conservation efforts and the capacity of communities to self- or co-manage their local resources sustainably. Most previous studies have been qualitative and small scale, documenting ecoliteracy in geographically isolated locations. In this study, we take a different approach, focusing on (1) the primary factors affecting individual levels of ecoliteracy, (2) whether these factors shift with economic development, and (3) if different knowledge protection strategies are required for the future. We compared non-resource-dependent communities in the United Kingdom with resource-dependent communities in India and Indonesia (n = 1250 interviews). We found that UK residents with the highest levels of ecoliteracy visited the countryside frequently, lived and grew up in rural areas, and acquired their knowledge from informal word-of-mouth sources, such as parents and friends, rather than television and schooling. The ecoliteracy of resource-dependent community members, however, varied with wealth status and gender. The least wealthy families depended most on local resources for their livelihoods and had the highest levels of ecoliteracy. Gender roles affected both the level and content of an individual's ecoliteracy. The importance of reciprocal oral transfer of this knowledge in addition to direct experience to the maintenance of ecoliteracy was apparent at all sites. Lessons learned may contribute to new local resource management strategies for combined ecoliteracy conservation. Without novel policies, local community management capacity is likely to be depleted in the future.