The internet is a unique source of global data on human knowledge, attitudes, and interactions with nature. A new field of conservation research, broadly termed ‘conservation culturomics’, seeks to capture, collate, cross-reference, and analyse data from large digital databases to derive novel and relevant insights on human interactions with nature. In our article, we use culturomic methods to quantify the representation of bird species on the global internet and to explore the influence of real-world interactions with species on their virtual representation.

Read the article here.

It is a truism in conservation that people are more willing to support the conservation of species that they know and like. Such species can be identified through social surveys, though these are limited in both geographic and taxonomic scope. Global-scale evaluation of interactions between humans and non-human species thus requires an alternative approach. We reasoned that the interests and preoccupations of people and institutions around the world are reflected, to a broad degree, in what they put on the internet. All things being equal, we would expect a well-known and charismatic species (e.g. a tiger) to generate a lot more internet content than an obscure, nocturnal species. However, estimating the representation of different species on the global internet is confounded by the huge variation in what species are called in different languages (or even in the same language). Here, we overcome this barrier through quantifying the frequency of webpages that mention the scientific names of a species – which recent studies demonstrate are strongly correlated with common name use. Using all living bird species, we show that species that are highly represented on the global internet have been known to science for longer, have populations that overlap with technologically advanced societies, are conspicuous, and directly interact with humans (e.g. through hunting, pet keeping, etc.). These results strongly suggest that the relative frequency of a species’ scientific name use on the internet is a good general measure of its prominence in global culture. Such a measure has a wide variety of potential uses in conservation monitoring and communication.