Wetenschap - 22 maart 2011

Let the underdog multiply

We have a soft spot for the underdog. So too for bio-diversity. Animal and plant species which are dwindling in numbers get our vote.

kruisspin.jpg
kruisspin.jpg

Foto: .

This appears to be happening all over Europe, as shown by a survey into what the general public considers as criteria for nature management and species conservation. Fransje Langers (Alterra) publishes the results in the online edition of Biological Conservation. People in eight countries (from Scotland to Rumania, including the Netherlands), have been asked about their desire to let certain species increase in numbers. In each country, a well-known and 'charismatic' big mammal, an insect and a non-native plant were named.
Cross spider
In the Netherlands, Langers let the inhabitants in the Veluwe region evaluate the Red Deer, the Cross Spider and the Giant Hogweed. The research zoomed in on the link between desired population growth and eight characteristics of the species, such as harmfulness, attractiveness, and how indigenous a species is. The aim behind this is to get a better understanding of how citizens view nature, and correspondingly, how to find a better link to the natural areas in that region.
Universal experience
It is notable that the average European views nature in more or less the same way. According to Langers, this points to the existence of universal values in the way species are being perceived. Scarcity, harmlessness, value and attractiveness play their roles here, but the main influence comes from knowledge about the decline in population numbers in the species. This is where the public has a soft spot for when it concerns the desire for population increase, according to Langers and her co-workers. It is also interesting to note that being indigenous hardly or does not have any influence at all. People like exotic species as much as species which have been around all along.
Harm
An important lesson can be gathered from here, says Langers. 'Debates on invasive species which focus on the issue of native versus exotic do not have much of a foothold among the public. Not only do many people not know which species are exotic, they don't bother about this at all. Besides being concerned about the changes in the numbers of the species, the public is also concerned about the value of a species within the eco-system and the harm which it can cause. Harm caused by invasive species should be brought forward in a more transparent and explicit way as a criterion in decision-making in the international debate.'

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