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Dutch youth unfamiliar with native animal species

For the first time research has been done on species literacy in the Netherlands. Children in primary schools know about 1 in 3 native animal species. Publication in Biological Conservation.

Common species

PhD student Michiel Hooykaas of the Science Communication and Society research group focuses on the role of species knowledge – species literacy – in relation to nature conservation and biodiversity. Under the guidance of professors Ionica Smeets of the Institute of Biology Leiden (IBL) and Menno Schilthuizen, who works at both the IBL and Naturalis Biodiversity Center, species literacy of native animals was investigated for the first time in the Netherlands. Hooykaas: ‘It was to be expected that children know fewer species compared to adults, but even common species turn out to be unknown to children.’

Small tortoiseshell
Small tortoiseshell

Small tortoiseshell

Hooykaas tested three groups on their knowledge of indigenous species: children of 9 and 10 years old, a general public of 12 years and older, and people who deal with biodiversity in a paid or volunteer job. The latter group served as a comparison: how is the species literacy of lay people compared to the professionals? Some animal species were very recognizable for each group of participants, such as the red fox, red squirrel and hedgehog. Birds were less well known: less than a quarter of the children could identify common species such as the magpie, common blackbird and house sparrow. The general public, too, regularly did not succeed in recognizing a moorhen or finch. The small tortoiseshell, a butterfly species, turned out to be a difficult species to identify even for the professionals: only just over half of the professionals were able to name this species correctly.

Care about what you know

The participants were shown images of 27 Dutch native animal species. For each image the participant was asked to write down the name of the species. Some species that are rarely encountered – such as the wolf and the red fox – were recognized more often than, for example, a common blackbird and blue tit, which are found everywhere in the Netherlands. Hooykaas believes that media attention plays a role in this discrepancy. The research further shows that species literacy increases with age and educational level. Moreover, the researchers found an association between species literacy and a positive attitude towards nature and animals. This is in line with previous studies that have reported that people care about what they know.

Distance between people and local nature

Hooykaas hopes that the lack of laypeople's knowledge of animal species in the Netherlands will become the subject of discussion. ‘These findings raise questions about the distance between people and local nature and biodiversity: is that bond being developed? That requires more research.’ Hooykaas hopes that his work will find a broad application: ‘I hope that the animal quiz we used will be followed up outside of this project. Given the enthusiastic reactions, many people would like that and in this way people can get to know new species. I think it can enrich their lives and benefit nature.’

Test your species literacy

Look at the images of 27 Dutch native animal species and find out if you know them. The answers will not be used for scientific purposes.

Test your species literacy

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