Biodiverse plant communities work more efficiently than less biodiverse ones, e.g. in response to disturbance and the production of biomass. This artificial community contains a high diversity of plant species found in Northern Norway. It was assembled for a study that investigated whether people perceive plant biodiversity differences that matter to nature and its contribution to people; and whether high plant biodiversity is visually attractive.
Photo credit: Eva Breitschopf

By Eva Breitschopf, and Kari Anne Bråthen.

Read the full article here.

Plant biodiversity, which is fundamental to nature and human well-being, is in decline. But are we able to see changes to biodiversity, and do we even like it when see high biodiversity?

In our study we showed pictures of plant communities (assemblages of different plants that live together) to biologists and laypeople.

The plant communities differed in their biodiversity in three ways. The first set of pictures contained fewer and fewer species, a decline in species richness. In the second set, one species took over more and more space while the others were left with less, a decline in species evenness. The third set consisted of combinations of three communities, which contained the same number of species but more and more common species, a decline in species turnover. All three changes represent a loss of biodiversity that can be expected to lower nature’s benefits to people. For example, research has shown 16-species communities can produce more than 2.5 times as much biomass than 2-species communities. This is the range of species richness we tested.

We asked our respondents to order the pictures within one set, from high to low diversity and then according to their liking.

Our respondents were a lot more accurate in ordering species richness than in the other two, lesser-known biodiversity categories. Biologists were 12% more often accurate across all categories.

People’s liking strongly increased with species richness, they liked communities better the more species they contained. They also liked communities with an even distribution better than when one species dominated.

Interestingly, we found that people’s liking was strongest connected to the diversity they perceived; people liked best what they thought was most diverse.

These findings indicate that the more we know about plant biodiversity and its benefits, the better we can perceive changes and the better we like it.