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Nature documentaries inspire plant awareness and conservation, new study suggests

Posted 16 February, 2023

Efforts to save some of the planet’s most under threat plant species could be boosted by television, according to new UCD research.

(opens in a new window)A study published in the journal Annals of Botany indicates that watching nature documentaries makes people more interested in plants, potentially encouraging them to engage with conservation programs.

Examining online interest following the airing of a number of high profile natural history productions resented by Sir David Attenborough, including Planet Earth II, Blue Planet II, Green Planet, and Seven Worlds, One Planet, researchers found viewer awareness and interest in those plant species featured increased noticeably.

Using Google Trends and Wikipedia page hits for a before and after snapshot, the researchers measured whether Green Planet drove interest in plant species by exploring people’s online behaviour around the time of its broadcast.

Some 28.1% of search terms representing plants mentioned in the BBC documentary had peak popularity in the UK, the week after the broadcast of the relevant episode.

Wikipedia data showed this as well. Almost a third (31.3%) of the Wikipedia pages related to plants mentioned in Green Planet showed increased visits the week after the broadcast.

The investigators also note that people were more likely to do online searches for plants that enjoyed more screen time.

While the study says it is difficult to draw a clear link between such TV shows and conservation, it suggests nature documentaries could provide a means to engage audiences with these efforts.

Some 40% of plant species are under threat of extinction, and people often do not recognise how important many plants are due to a cognitive bias sometimes called ‘plant blindness’ or ‘plant awareness disparity’.

In the United States, for example, plants receive less than 4% of federal funding for endangered species, despite comprising 57% of the endangered species list.

“In this study, we show that nature documentaries can increase plant awareness among the audience,” said lead author, (opens in a new window)Dr Joanna Kacprzyk, UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science.

“Our results also suggest that the viewers found certain plant species particularly captivating. These plants could be used for promoting plant conservation efforts and counteracting the alarming loss of plant biodiversity.“

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations