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What is biodiversity, anyway?

Despite its use in headlines and despite a recent international convention on the issue (SN: 5/8/93, p.303), biodiversity remains an enigma for many. In April, telephone interviews with 1,209 randomly selected adults in the continental United States revealed that 73 percent were unfamiliar with the notion of the loss of biological diversity. The idea was new even to many of the 210 additional interviewees who belonged to environmental organizations, reports Stephen R. Kellert, a social ecologist at Yale University.

Moreover, very few people connected the destruction of habitat with the loss of species. Instead, most blamed pollution and the overexploitation of natural resources, says Kellert.

During the 25-minute interviews, researchers assessed people's attitudes toward and knowledge of biodiversity and explained the concept to those unfamiliar with it. Defenders of Wildlife, based in Washington, D.C., sponsored the survey

Of late. many advocates for preserving biodiversity have stressed its potential economic value for agriculture and medicine. But ethical concerns - a desire to preserve species for future generations and a sense of obligation to save species because of their ecological roles - ranked much higher among those interviewed. "I think we tend to overestimate the importance of economic value," Kellert says.

Concerned with how few people understand biodiversity, Rodget Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, suggests replacing "biodiversity" with a more jarring descriptor on par with "acid rain" or "global warming." Two possibilities he's come up with: "biocrisis" and "extinction crisis."
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Title Annotation:Defenders of Wildlife survey indicates 73% of adults are unfamiliar with the idea of the loss of biological diversity
Author:Pennisi, Elizabeth
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jun 26, 1993
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