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March 29, 2021 Monday 05:52:47 PM IST

Global biodiversity awareness tracked with Wikipedia page views

Science Innovations

Wikipedia page views could be used to monitor global awareness of biodiversity, proposes a research team from UCL, ZSL, and the RSPB. Using their new metric, the research team found that awareness of biodiversity is marginally increasing, but the rate of change varies greatly between different groups of animals, as they report in paper included in a special edition of Conversation Biology.

In 2010, countries across the globe agreed on the Aichi Targets set out by the UN-led Convention of Biological Diversity, one of which was public awareness of the value of biodiversity. But not all of the targets could easily be measured, which may have hampered progress on meeting the targets – none of which were fully met by 2020.

The research team sought to fill a gap in the measurement of public awareness of biodiversity’s value, drawing inspiration from the Living Planet Index (LPI), an aggregation of change in many vertebrate populations, which is managed by colleagues at the Institute of Zoology, ZSL. Previously awareness was primarily measured by surveys, which did not have an adequately global, comprehensive scope, and can be subjective.

The team developed a new metric derived from the rate of change of page views for Wikipedia entries for individual animal species. They pulled together a dataset of more than 2 billion views of the pages for 41,197 animal species, from the 10 most widely-used languages on the site, and tracked how page view patterns changed from 2015 to 2020. The researchers adjusted for background popularity of Wikipedia, to see how traffic to each page changed relative to the overall Wikipedia traffic in each language.

Their new metric, called the Species Awareness Index, showed a marginal increase in biodiversity awareness over the five-year period. Awareness increased fastest for reptiles, while it declined for amphibians. The species that have seen the fastest increase in global interest are the long-tailed tit, the critically endangered Asian forest tortoise, and the Indian flying lizard. The Kemp's ridley sea turtle, the world’s rarest sea turtle, also saw a large increase in page views.

Overall, increases in views did not appear to be related to either the trade of species or their contribution to the pollination of plants, which the authors say suggests that their metric has detected an increasing awareness of biodiversity generally, but perhaps not yet a growing awareness of its value.

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