Understanding mental constructs of biodiversity: Implications for biodiversity management and conservation

Fischer, Anke; Young, Juliette C.. 2007 Understanding mental constructs of biodiversity: Implications for biodiversity management and conservation. Biological Conservation, 136 (2). 271-282.

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The participation of the public in environmental decision-making and management is increasingly seen as essential for the success of conservation initiatives. Ecological scientists and conservation practitioners have, however, argued that a lack of understanding of biodiversity issues by the public is a barrier to their effective participation in decision-making processes. These arguments are often based on studies where scientific knowledge is used as the sole measure of public understanding of biodiversity, and therefore fail to account for individuals’ constructs of biodiversity and related issues such as biodiversity management. We examined individuals’ mental constructs of biodiversity, and their conceptual contexts, through a series of focus group discussions with members of the general public in Scotland. To gain a fuller picture of public understanding of biodiversity, we distinguished between mental associations with the term ‘biodiversity’, and the meanings associated with biodiversity-related concepts independent of scientific terminology. We found participants to express rich mental concepts of biodiversity, irrespective of their scientific knowledge. These included notions of balance, food chains and human–nature interactions, and showed strong normative dimensions that were used to define desirable or ideal states of nature. These concepts of biodiversity were, in turn, strongly related to their attitudes towards how best to manage biodiversity. This study highlights that a better understanding of individuals’ mental constructs of biodiversity, which are linked to their attitudes towards biodiversity management, is essential for the design of biodiversity-related policies that are supported by the public.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Programmes pre-2009 publications > Biodiversity
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Watt
ISSN: 00063207
Additional Keywords: biodiversity, attitudes, values, understanding, management, public
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 24 Jan 2008 14:05 +0 (UTC)

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