Biodiversity is as vital for our well-being as money. According to a recent scientific study, the life satisfaction level attained by an increase in bird species number by 14 is equivalent to a pay raise of 124 euros per month in a household account in Europe. This research proves that nature conservation has direct beneficial effects on human lives, a fact that must be taken into consideration by policymakers in countries across the world.
The groundbreaking study, published in the journal 'Ecological Economics', was conducted by scientists from Senckenberg, the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), and the University of Kiel.
Numerous studies in the past have exhibited the positive effects of a biodiverse environment on humans. Such benefits are called Nature's Contributions to People (NCP). They can be material in nature (food, construction material, forestry products) or non-material (catering to the psychological and physical well-being of people). Examples of the latter kind of NCP involve higher life satisfaction experienced by people living in proximity to urban green spaces, and better physical and mental health of populations with good access to vegetated areas, etc. A former study in Victoria, Australia, discovered a positive relationship between the number of species of flora and fauna and the subjective well-being of people residing in Victoria. The diversity of bird species has also been linked to personal and neighborhood welfare in urban residents.
While most of the previous studies involved small study areas such as urban parks, the present study was conducted on a continental scale. The researchers used data from the '2012 European Quality of Life Survey' covering over 26,000 adults from 26 European countries. They analyzed the data to study the connection between the life satisfaction of the people and species diversity (avian species) in their surroundings.
The study revealed that individual enjoyment of life across Europe was profoundly impacted by the number of bird species. The increase in life satisfaction level of these people caused by a 10% increase in bird species number was almost the same as that caused by a comparable rise in income.
According to Joel Methorst, lead author of the study: “Europeans are particularly satisfied with their lives if their immediate surroundings host a high species diversity. According to our findings, the happiest Europeans are those who can experience numerous different bird species in their daily life, or who live in near-natural surroundings that are home to many species."
Thus, the study shows the importance of birds as biodiversity indicators. They are a delight to watch and their songs also offer a sense of pleasure to people. Bird diversity also indicates the health of the environment. Areas with more green spaces and water bodies usually host a higher number of bird species.
Although research clearly shows the importance of biodiversity for human well-being, the researchers also warn about the loss of biodiversity in the current times and its negative impact on the population.
“The Global Assessment 2019 by the World Biodiversity Council IPBES and studies of avian species in agricultural landscapes in Europe clearly show that the biological diversity is currently undergoing a dramatic decline. This poses the risk that human well-being will also suffer from an impoverished nature. Nature conservation therefore not only ensures our material basis of life, but it also constitutes an investment in the well-being of us all,” stated Methorst.