CIE Spotlight: Variation in public perceptions and attitudes towards terrestrial ecosystems

Mike W.

Authors: Kiley, Heather M.; Ainsworth, Gillian B.; van Dongen, Wouter F. D.; Weston, Michael A.

Source: SCIENCE OF THE TOTAL ENVIRONMENT, 590 440-451, JUL 15 2017

Brief summary of the paper: Biodiversity is a global asset of inestimable value which is threatened by human activities. Biodiversity exists within ecosystems, which enjoy differing levels of conservation. The ways in which humans regard ecosystems can play an important role in identifying strategies to change human behaviour, thereby achieving conservation goals.

We investigated how preference, scenic attractiveness, perceptions of biodiversity and conservation value varied between five terrestrial ecosystems in Victoria, Australia (503 respondents). We document, for the first time, distinct ecosystem preferences, with people favouring wet forest, followed by dry forest, arid woodland/shrubland, heathland and then grassland.

The ecological worldview of the respondent (i.e., the set of beliefs that guide the way a person interacts with the natural world), their familiarity with the habitat and perceived scenic attractiveness influenced the conservation value assigned by the members of the public to each ecosystem. The conservation and biodiversity value assigned to each ecosystem was higher where people were familiar with the ecosystem, considered it attractive, and held an ecocentric worldview.

These aspects may correlate with public attitudes and represent key elements which could be used to engender higher levels of support for less appreciated ecosystems. Enhanced support may then underpin better conservation outcomes.