Greater bird species richness is associated with better life satisfaction, according to new research published in Ecological Economics.
“Personally, I am interested in this topic because I feel it is important to measure the value of nature. As a scientist, I want to fill knowledge gaps in regard to the question whether or not biodiversity plays a role for human well-being,” said study author Joel Methorst of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research.
For their study, the researchers examined data from the 2012 European Quality of Life Survey, which surveyed 43,636 individuals from 34 European countries. A measure of avian species diversity was created via the European Bird Census Council’s European Breeding Bird Atlas.
Methorst and his colleagues found that bird species richness was positively associated with life satisfaction across Europe. Even after controlling for factors such as income, age, gender, health status, and environmental characteristics, those who lived in areas with a greater diversity of birds tended to report being more satisfied with life.
“People should be aware that the diversity of nature (biodiversity) is important for humans,” Methorst told PsyPost. “It is important for many ecosystem functions and services, and it can also directly affect our health and well-being. For instance, when people experience biodiverse nature or wildlife, this can directly benefit their mental health or life satisfaction.”
Access to green space was also positively associated with life satisfaction. Surprisingly, however, the richness of mammal and tree species was not associated with life satisfaction.
Birds are well-suited as indicators of biological diversity because they are among the most visible elements of the animal kingdom — particularly in urban areas. In addition, their song can often be heard even if the bird itself is not visible, and most birds are popular and people like to watch them.
“We also examined the socio-economic data of the people that were surveyed, and, much to our surprise, we found that avian diversity is as important for their life satisfaction as is their income,” added co-author Katrin Böhning-Gaese in a news release.
But the study — like all research — includes some caveats.
“Unfortunately our study does not allow any causal interpretations since it is only a cross-sectional study,” Methorst noted. “The results therefore need to be validated with better data sets and experiments. The mechanisms which drive the relationship between biodiversity and life satisfaction (or other well-being indicators) also remain mostly unexplored.”
“Conserving nature and biodiversity is necessary in order to ensure our well-being,” the researcher added. “Future planning and design of urban areas or building should incorporate the benefits of nature and biodiversity.”
The study, “The importance of species diversity for human well-being in Europe“, was authored by Joel Methorst, Katrin Rehdanz, Thomas Mueller, Bernd Hansjürgens, Aletta Bonn, Katrin Böhning-Gaese.