The number of bird species around a person correlates with happiness. This is the result of a new study on the quality of life of more than 26,000 adults from 26 European countries. Adding 10 percent more bird species to the environment increases life satisfaction among Europeans at least as much as a comparable increase in income, according to the study. According to the researchers, nature conservation is an investment in human well-being.
In the current pandemic environment, outdoor activities are a popular pastime. The positive effects of various kinds on people’s mental health have already been documented in smaller studies. Scientists from the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research, the iDiv and the University of Kiel have now investigated for the first time whether diverse nature also increases human well-being on the entire continent.
For this purpose, the researchers used data from the “European Quality of Life Survey 2012” to examine the relationship between the biodiversity in their surroundings and people’s satisfaction with life. Species diversity was measured using the diversity of bird species, as documented in the European breeding bird atlas.
“Europeans are particularly satisfied with their lives when their immediate surroundings are rich in biodiversity,” explains the study’s lead author, Joel Methorst, a doctoral student at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center, at the iDiv and at the Goethe University in Frankfurt. “We have found that the happiest Europeans are those who experience many different bird species in their daily life or who live in natural environments that are home to many species.”
Bird diversity is as important as income
Birds make good indicators of biodiversity because they are among the most visible elements of living nature – especially in urban areas. In addition, their song can often be heard, even if the bird itself is not visible. But there is also a second aspect that influences life satisfaction: the environment. A particularly high number of bird species can be found in areas with a high proportion of natural and diverse landscapes, in which there are numerous green spaces and bodies of water.
“We also examined the socio-economic data of the people surveyed and, to our great surprise, found that bird diversity is just as important for their satisfaction with life as their income,” explains Prof. Dr. Katrin Böhning-Gaese, Director of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center, Professor at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main and member of the iDiv. This result becomes particularly clear when both values increase by ten percent. Fourteen other bird species in the area increase life satisfaction by at least 124 euros per month on the household account, based on an average income of 1,237 euros per month in Europe.
According to the study, therefore, a diverse nature plays an important role for the well-being of people across Europe – also beyond their material services. At the same time, the researchers draw attention to impending health problems. “The 2019 global assessment by the World Biodiversity Council IPBES and studies on bird species in agricultural landscapes in Europe clearly show that biodiversity is currently declining dramatically. This carries the risk that human well-being will also suffer from an impoverished nature. Nature conservation thus not only secures our material livelihood, but also represents an investment in the wellbeing of all of us, ”adds Methorst.
Many thanks to the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) for providing this message.
Winged Miracles: Why Birds Have the Power to Lift Us
Sign up for our free e-newsletter to receive news, photos of birds, tips on dressing and identification, and more in your inbox.
Sign up for free