Personal detection

Gaston, K.J. 2020. Personalised ecology and detection functions. People and Nature [online early].

1. Direct interactions with nature are important for people’s health, well-being and support for pro-nature policies. There is an urgent need better to understand the structure and dynamics of these interactions, and how they differ among individual people, human populations and the communities to which they belong.

2. The determinants of these interactions have two components. First are the factors that influence whether someone undertakes actions that may lead to interactions with nature (e.g. looking through a window, going for a walk, travelling to the countryside). These factors have attracted significant attention. Second are the factors that influence what nature interactions are obtained when someone is present in a situation in which these could occur. These have received little explicit attention.

3. One way of formalizing understanding, and identifying gaps in knowledge, of the second group of factors is to consider human–nature interactions in terms of detection functions. Rather than using such functions for the estimation of species abundances, the purpose for which they were originally developed, they can be reorganized as descriptors of influences on people’s nature interactions.

4. This paper considers how the different variables contained within detection functions influence human–nature interactions, and in particular how the number of nature interactions a person has in a given place and time is shaped both by clearly ‘nature’-associated variables, such as the number of organisms present, and also by variables that are strongly influenced by characteristics of the observer, such as how they use or explore an area and their personal nature detection abilities.

5. Many issues explored in the context of human–nature interactions are then seen to concern these component variables of detection functions, and approaches to improving the frequency of interactions seen, in effect, to be targeted at affecting change in different ones of these variables.