Social media data reveal benefits or threats to biodiversity by visitors to nature locations

This seems useful~ctm

University of Helsinki

IMAGE: King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) at Volunteer Point, East Falkland, the largest breeding site for the species and one of the most important tourists' destinations in the archipelago. Credit: Anna Hausmann

King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) at Volunteer Point, East Falkland, the largest breeding site for the species and one of the most important tourists’ destinations in the archipelago. Credit: Anna Hausmann

Understanding how people use and experience important places for living nature is essential for effectively managing and monitoring human activities and conserving biodiversity.

In a new article published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, a team of researchers assessed global patterns of visitation rates, attractiveness and pressure to more than 12,000 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), which are sites of international significance for nature conservation, by using geolocated data mined from social media (Twitter and Flickr).

The study found that Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas located in Europe and Asia, and in temperate biomes, had the highest density of social media users. Results also showed that sites of importance for congregatory species, which were also more accessible, more densely populated and provided more tourism facilities, received higher visitation than did sites richer in bird species.

“Resources in biodiversity conservation are woefully inadequate and novel data sources from social media provide openly available user-generated information about human-nature interactions, at an unprecedented spatio-temporal scale”, says Dr Anna Hausmann from the University of Helsinki, a conservation scientist leading the study. “Our group has been exploring and validating data retrieved from social media to understand people´s preferences for experiencing nature in national parks at a local, national and continental scale”, she continues, “in this study, we expand our analyses at a global level”.

Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries worldwide, and conservation areas are becoming popular destinations for people seeking nature-based experiences. “Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas represent some of the most important places for nature across the planet. Our results now allow us to pinpoint which of these sites face potentially the greatest threats or greatest opportunities resulting from high numbers of visitors.” says Dr Stuart Butchart, Chief Scientist at BirdLife International, who co-authored the study.

“Social media content and metadata contain useful information for understanding human-nature interactions in space and time”, says Prof. Tuuli Toivonen, another co-author in the paper and the leader of the Digital Geography Lab at the University of Helsinki. “Social media data can also be used to cross-validate and enrich data collected by conservation organizations”, she continues. The study found that the 17 percent of all Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) that were assessed by experts to be under greater human disturbance also had higher density of social media users.

Therefore, these sites should be priority for management actions aimed at minimizing pressure at sites. “However, data on threats do not yet exist for many highly visited Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas, even in North America and Europe. Mobilizing such data worldwide should be priority”, says Dr Thomas Brooks, Chief Scientist of IUCN, who also co-authored the paper.

“With the increasing use of social media worldwide, automatic content analysis of digital data sources will help us understand present or emerging human-related threats at sites where threats are currently unknown or difficult to assess”, says Adjunct professor Enrico Di Minin, senior co-author who leads the Helsinki Lab of Interdisciplinary Conservation Science at the University of Helsinki. “We are currently applying and developing machine learning and natural language processing methods to analyze large amount of online information, in order to understand human-nature interactions and inform conservation science and practice”, he concludes.

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Reference: Hausmann, A., Toivonen, T., Fink, C., Heikinheimo, V., Tenkanen, H., Butchart, S., Brooks, T., Di Minin, E. 2019. Assessing global popularity and threats to Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas using social media data. Science of the Total Environment, doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.05.268.

From EurekAlert!

22 thoughts on “Social media data reveal benefits or threats to biodiversity by visitors to nature locations

    • I think they just said that when people go on vacation they put pictures on social media. Somehow that turned into a crisis.

  1. How many pristine places are at risk from media articles about unspoilt places?
    What is the carbon footprint of those people going to experience nature?
    Many of those visiting these places are the same as those complaining about fossil fuels and future extinctions.

    • StephenP
      Your comment that many (most?) of the people going to these remote pristine places and messing them up being the same people whining about fossil fuels is particularly appropriate today looking at the increasing foul mess that is Mount Everest. This is now a foul stinking litter and excrement covered mess that has become a bucket list hotspot for virtue signallers in the climbing fashionista establishment. Perhaps they should be made to adopt the same policy that responsible dog owners exercise which is to take a plastic(?) bag and take their mess away with them.

      • Sh*t doesn’t decay when it’s frozen. Trucking it off the mountain by the donators should be mandatory.

        • As a contrast: on rafting trips through the Grand Canyon, taking “it” with you is mandatory. They use a waterproof container similar to those they use for food etc.

  2. As Alex just said, what did they just say?
    Are they “calculating” biodiversity from the contents of Twitter and Flickr?
    I thought that biologist were put in the field for actual observations and counting, that was how it worked half a century.
    Maybe it is a push for using AI software instead of doing manual labor.

    • It’s a novel approach which shouldn’t be discounted (though trying to get to grips with the article made my brain hurt!).

      “Footfall”, to use the term beloved of those who are desperate to know how many of us do something, only tells you so much. Social media could be a useful tool in assessing what our reactions are to what we experience.

      But as Stephen P points out, there is an excellent chance that those who “gush” about such things on social media are the very ones who are telling the rest of us we shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing! Hypocrites to a man!

  3. How many tourists from SubSahara Africa visited these places compared to middle class tourists from NAmerica, Japan, and Europe?

    Now who does rhe Green slime elites want to eliminate?

  4. I have often considered the invasion of nature’s wildlife habitats by gaily-coloured kagool wearing, shouty “trippers” as an intrusion on the peace and quiet of the places they descend upon. People trekking over the fells, like a stream of red, pink, yellow ants, and secluded waterfalls taken over by screaming kayakers. animals in their natural habitats constantly disturbed by “ooh-ing” and “aahh-ing” of people who have no real need to be there. Leave the countryside alone!

  5. I have often considered the invasion of nature’s wildlife habitats by gaily-coloured kagool wearing, shouty “trippers” as an intrusion on the peace and quiet of the places they descend upon. People trekking over the fells, like a stream of red, pink, yellow ants, and secluded waterfalls taken over by screaming kayakers. animals in their natural habitats constantly disturbed by “ooh-ing” and “aahh-ing” of people who have no real need to be there. Leave the countryside alone!

  6. This is the only factual point cited:

    “King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) at Volunteer Point, East Falkland, the largest breeding site for the species ”

    And it is so wrong that it is absurd. Volunteer Point is a small colony, about 1,000-2,000 pairs. There are several colonies larger than 100,000 pairs, Salisbury Plains on South Georgia for example. I know, I’ve visited both, but without publishing selfies on Facebook, so presumably I don’t count.

  7. Tourism can be highly beneficial for nature. Poor communities in third world countries will wreck the local environment just to survive. If they get income from tourism, they have an incentive to preserve the environment. link

    Once again, we have an example showing that prosperity is good for the environment. In this case, prosperous first world people spread the wealth to the third world. The whole thing is enabled by cheap fossil fuels.

    CAGW hysteria is horrible for the environment.

    • A fair point. I think one of the big failings of conservationists/environmentalists is that they too often start from a negative viewpoint, that all human interactions with the natural environment are intrinsically harmful.

      When one considers such things as “wildlife corridors” in urban environments and thriving marine communities around old shipwrecks, this viewpoint is wrong. Even plastic bottles on the seashore provide a micro-environment for many species that normally live under rocks. I would have a lot more time for environmentalists if they made a bigger effort to recognize the many beneficial effects humans have on the environment instead of wanting to reduce all human effects to zero. A better understanding of the positive effects would allow us to create more of them more easily.

  8. Add to this the damage done by biologists. They infected the golden toad of Costa Rica with a frog fungus from S Africa using [dirty] field equipment. It went extinct and they tried to blame it on non [existent] global warming. Also they outfitted penguins with camera equipment to watch them dive and hunt ant they all perished.

  9. Penguins are unpleasant & distasteful (I thank Attenborough for turning me). I suggest eco-loons find a better virtue-signalling Antarctic symbol.

    • I probably have rather more experience of penguins than you (I have seen all species except two in the wild, most of them very close up and in very large numbers). They do smell a bit fishy in the most literal sense of the word, but except for that I have never found anything in the least unpleasant or distasteful about them. Just what is it you dislike?

      • The eco-loons/Attenborough’s endless thrusting-them-in-our-faces and posing them as climate-change “victims” mostly.

        • But they ARE climate change victims. The Climate CHange Ecoloons are constantly victimizing them for profit (only Climate Change models are non prophet)

  10. I wonder how many people go to places or to see things specifically because Attenborough has done so.

    • In my case it’s the other way around. I have twice been prevented from going to a place because Attenborough/BBC had bribed local authorities to turn ordinary tourists away. In one case on Galapagos we couldn’t even take a boat through a strait, because Attenborough didn’t want boats in the backgrond spoiling the “wilderness”.

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