Abundance and aesthetics

Soga, M., Fukano, Y., Koyanagi, T.F. & Gaston, K.J. 2021. Species abundance as a determinant of aesthetic values of flowering plant communities. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 63, 127194.

Both the conservation of biodiversity and the maintenance of ecosystem services are important and fundamental goals in response to the current biodiversity crisis. Cultural ecosystem services – the non-material benefits people derive from their interactions with nature – are an important component of ecosystem services. However, determining the contributions of different components of biodiversity to these benefits has proven more challenging than for other ecosystem services. Here, we determine the relative contributions of diversity (measured as cultivar richness) and abundance (number of individuals) to the aesthetic value of flowering plant communities, using sunflowers as a model organism. We created grassland vegetation plots consisting of different numbers of sunflower cultivars and individuals, presented these treatments to people, and measured their aesthetic preferences (both self-reported and objective behavioural measures) towards them. We found that people’s aesthetic preferences were unrelated to differences in the cultivar richness of the plots but increased substantially with the number of individuals. More importantly, these preference patterns did not differ with a participants’ nature orientation, ecological knowledge, or gender, suggesting the generality of the results. Our findings indicate that the abundance of wildlife can play a crucial role in shaping the cultural services provided by ecosystems. Researchers and policy-makers should therefore pay more attention to the role of abundance in maintaining ecosystem services.