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Species, Part Two

March 6, 2017

In the last post we discussed how to define the concept of species, how to determine whether an animal is one species or another, and how to define what constitutes a new species. In this post we’re going to focus on people, as conservation is often more about managing people than managing wildlife.

A few years ago I helped with some research that looked at the influence of species’ common names on support for the conservation of that species. It turns out (perhaps not surprisingly) that more negative-associated names garnered less support for conservation than more positive-associated names. We tested both real and fictional names in order to manipulate their connotations, but also measured which real names were seen positively and which were seen negatively. For example, the name that had the most support for conservation was the bald eagle, while the fictitious sheep-eating eagle had the least support for conservation.

Particularly interesting to me, and relevant to urban biodiversity, we included several names for coyotes. Of those, the American song dog (the word coyote actually comes from a word that means song dog) and the Great Plains wild dog generated the most support for conservation, while the coydog, coyote, Eastern coywolf (a name used by some researchers), and Eastern coyote (my preferred name for coyotes found on the east coast) beat out only the aforementioned sheep-eating eagle for species generating the least support for conservation.

The point is that apparently a song dog by any other name would not smell as sweet. Those of us who are concerned with biodiversity conservation would do well to remember the power of names while working with the public and policy-makers!

Karaffa, Paul T., Draheim, M.M., and Parsons, E.C.M. 2012. What’s in a name? Do species’ names impact student support for conservation? Human Dimensions of Wildlife. 17:4, 308-310.

Coyote Portrait

Coyote, (c) Matt Knoth via Wikimedia Commons

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