Vive la Biodiversite!

Last month I was fortunate to visit the  French Museum of Natural History in Paris (the Musee Nationale d’Histoire Naturelle, MNHN), where there is a great deal of  interesting work going on.

At the lab I visited, a number of people trained primarily in ecology are thinking about the human element.  Their approach, in general, is to examine whether people know what biodiversity is and care about it; whether certain characteristics (like age, education, and scientific training) are associated with valuing biodiversity; and how care for biodiversity can be encouraged.  In particular, this research group is trying to incorporate awareness of biodiversity into the everyday experience of urban residents.

Most people don’t go to Paris to see nature. But it’s there, and we’d miss it if it were not. In addition to big parks like the Tuileries and the Luxembourg Gardens, there are many small neighborhood parks where people go to walk their dogs, appreciate the greenery, and enjoy the fresh air. My French colleagues at the MNHN have tried organizing activity days in the parks to encourage people not only to visit but also to think more carefully about why they enjoy the parks, and to continue to think about nature when they have gone home, for example by building window boxes to attract pollinators.

Why bother? The goal is two-pronged. A diverse ecosystem is likely to be more healthy, providing the services that we take for granted (and that we’ve mentioned on this site before, like removing pollutants from air and water). There’s also an almost-unspoken sense that people lose out when they don’t connect with nature.

Wooster students (and faculty) love their beautiful green campus. But do we think about what it needs to thrive, and how our behavioral choices might affect it?  This is the question driving the research:  not, do we care? But do we notice? And do we make the connection?


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