Humans have long taken advantage of nature’s offerings. But beyond being an essential source of food, water, and raw materials, the natural world can contribute to people’s overall well-being through a host of intangible effects, and, according to new research, there are far more critical connections between humans and nature than one. i can think
After reviewing hundreds of scientific papers on cultural ecosystem services, or the intangible benefits of nature, researchers have identified 227 unique pathways through which people’s interactions with nature can positively or negatively affect well-being, according to a newspaper published on Friday in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.
The paper is believed to be the first of its kind to provide a comprehensive framework for understanding and defining the complex ways in which humans and nature are connected. And its findings could have important real-world implications, said Lam Thi Mai Huynh, the paper’s lead author and a doctoral candidate at the University of Tokyo.
In the modernized world, people tend to disconnect from nature, she said. For ecosystem management, the best solution, the most sustainable solution, is to reconnect people with nature and let local people be the ones to help maintain and manage ecosystem services.
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For Huynh, the ambitious research, an undertaking that even her academic supervisor initially thought might not be possible, stemmed from a desire to improve understanding of the complex underlying processes behind how intangible effects of nature, such as opportunities for recreation and leisure or spiritual fulfillment, have an impact on well-being. However, a key challenge is that much of the existing scientific literature on cultural ecosystem services has been very fragmented, the review noted.
You have all kinds of different people watching [the intangible benefits of nature] through a different lens, he said Alexandros Gasparatos, an associate professor at the Institute for Future Initiatives at the University of Tokyo who co-authored the paper. Although having diverse research is critical, he said, it becomes a bit difficult to bring everything together.
But the new study, a systematic review of about 300 peer-reviewed scientific papers, creates an excellent knowledge base, Gasparatos said.
The whole point of doing this exercise is to understand the connection, he added. We give names to phenomena.
The review breaks down the hundreds of potential connections between individual aspects of human well-being (mental and physical health, connections and belonging, and spirituality, among others) and cultural ecosystem services, such as recreation and tourism, aesthetic value, and social relationships. The researchers then went a step further and identified more than a dozen distinct underlying mechanisms through which people’s interactions with nature can affect their well-being.
The researchers found that the highest positive contributions were seen in mental and physical health. Recreation, tourism and aesthetic value appear to have the greatest impact on human health through the regenerative mechanism, or experiencing the restorative effects of being in nature, such as stress relief, according to the paper. Meanwhile, the highest negative effects are related to mental health through the destructive mechanism, or direct damages related to the degradation or loss of cultural ecosystem services, the researchers wrote.
In reality, you don’t have just one path, and the effects aren’t always positive, Gasparatos said. It’s not like if I go to the woods, I get a thing.
A well-designed park, for example, can be a place for recreation and leisure, as well as for connecting with other people. You may also find yourself appreciating the view of tall trees and lush greenery or birds and other wildlife. On the other hand, a poorly maintained natural space can lead to an unsightly or visually threatening landscape that can make you feel uncomfortable or scared to be there.
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The paper can provide a kind of road map, Huynh said, to help people, especially decision makers, understand that there are not only various intangible benefits from interactions with nature, but also how to try to achieve them.
If we understand the underlying process, we can help design better ecosystem management interventions, she said. We can help to improve nature’s contribution to human well-being, in addition to potentially improving sustainable management practices and eliminating some negative effects on well-being.
The research was widely applauded by several outside experts who were not involved in the work.
It’s long overdue to have a study like this that makes some of these connections a little clearer, he said Keith Tidball, an environmental anthropologist at Cornell University. This material has been scattered around the country for a long, long time, and this document takes a big step forward in sorting out what was previously quite a mess.
Anne Guerry, chief strategist and principal scientist with the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University, agreed. They did a really nice job of bringing together incredibly diverse literature, she said. It has been a challenge, she noted, among researchers to be able to present science in a way that reveals where and how nature provides the greatest benefits to humans, which can help inform and motivate investment in conservation and restoration that lead to better outcomes for both people and nature.
For example, research can have an impact on the role that nature potentially plays in human health. What this will be seriously useful for is being able to continue working to prove that doctors and clinicians can prescribe outdoor time, outdoor recreation, and even outdoor space because of these pathways. that they have identified in this paper, Tidball said. .
In one scenario, elements of this work may eventually be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorderssaid Elizabeth Haasechair of the American Psychiatric Associations Committee on Climate Change and Mental Health.
It makes us able to say that when we facilitate this kind of interaction with nature, you see this kind of benefit and then you describe these kinds of natural experiences, or you have policies that say you’re really depriving someone of their mental health. if you destroy these natural landscapes, she said.
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But the review has limitations, prompting some experts to caution against overinterpreting or overemphasizing its results.
A potential issue is that the existing research included in the review focuses disproportionately on individuals rather than groups.
There are many times when something may be really good for an individual, but overall for the community, it may not be so good at all, said Kevin Summers, a senior research ecologist with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development.
In many cases, what seem like very simple and straightforward decisions can have unintended consequences, Summers added.
Other research gaps should also be considered, Guerry said. While the review suggests that some links between certain characteristics of human well-being and cultural ecosystem services appear stronger than others, that doesn’t mean those other relationships may not be important, she said.
We have to be careful about oversimplifying the results and thinking that the lack of a relationship documented in this paper means something isn’t important, she said. Instead, it may mean that it hasn’t been studied and we haven’t found ways to quantify it and bring it into the scientific literature and outside of our kind of tacit understanding.
The researchers addressed the limitations of their work, noting in the paper that future research should explore in depth how these pathways and mechanisms play out in less-studied ecosystems and understand their differential effects for different actors.
In the meantime, however, the findings serve as an important reminder of the necessity of nature.
It can justify, very well, a mentality like, Let’s invest in nature because it has all these benefits, Gasparatos said.
With such strong positive benefits related to creativity, belonging, regeneration and more, it’s easy to feel from this paper that your constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness requires a country to preserve natural spaces, Haase added.
At a time when many people are becoming further separated and distanced from our ecological selves, efforts to connect humans and nature are not only interesting in terms of science, philosophy or ethics, Tidball said, but there are also human security implications here that are important. . And, he said, if steps are not taken to reconnect people with nature, the consequences could be dire.
If we continue on a path, as a species of being in a state of ecological amnesia, he said, we would find ourselves out of habitat and time and, therefore, out of luck.
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