Wikipedia page views help determine biodiversity awareness

When people want to know the answer to a question, they increasingly turn to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. So when researchers wanted to understand people’s awareness of biodiversity, they went to Wikipedia, too — to analyze their searches.

Usually, researchers use surveys to gauge people’s attitudes towards biodiversity and wildlife conservation. Those work well at smaller scales, said Joseph Millard, a PhD student at University College London, “but what if you want to get the opinion of large groups of people, across languages and cultures?”

Raising worldwide public awareness of biodiversity loss was one of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets the Convention on Biological Diversity created in 2010. “To measure the target, we need to know how aware of biodiversity people are,” Millard said. “And if we can meet that target, that makes the other targets easier to achieve.”

But awareness is hard to measure. Millard and a team of researchers at University College London, the Zoological Society of London and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, wondered if a good way to supplement survey data would be to measure awareness about species on Wikipedia. Previously researchers had been using resources like Google Trends, Twitter and online newspapers as a metric to see how aware of biodiversity people were. But those metrics only measured awareness of more technical conservation issues, Millard said. Wikipedia might work well for measuring awareness of biodiversity itself, his team thought, because it is available in multiple languages and has a unique ID for each species, regardless of language.

In a study published in Conservation Biology, Millard and his colleagues looked at Wikipedia page views for 41,197 animal species in the site’s 10 most widely used languages, and they monitored how they changed from 2015 to 2020. They called their new metric the Species Awareness Index. Millard said the index could help not only in gauging the public’s biodiversity awareness but also in helping conservation organizations determine the effectiveness of their campaigns.

Overall, the team found a marginal increase in biodiversity awareness over their study period. Reptile page views grew the most, including the abundant but dramatic Indian flying lizard (Draco dussumieri). Other species that saw large increases in global interest included the Asian forest tortoise (Manouria emys) and Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), both listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered. Amphibians and insects had the steepest declines in views. Japanese pages saw the highest increases in page views. Chinese pages had the lowest.

Their research also showed some trends regarding the reasons for those differences in rate of change in views. For example, neither pollinators nor traded species saw particularly high rates of change in page views, despite the roles they play for humans. “We still need to do a lot more research,” Millard said, “and we really need a longer time series to be sure, but my intuition is that some of the highest rates of change in awareness will be in species associated with specific events that happen either online, such as viral videos, or in the physical world.”

Header Image: Wikipedia page views for the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles increased over a five-year period. Credit: Jereme Phillips, USFWS