Conservation in a crowded world

Published 03/01/13 | by Pascale Pitot

Conservation in a crowded world Report of a talk by Richard Fuller from the University of Queensland.

Richard Fuller presented some of his research results around the relationship of people and biodiversity at the Burnley Campus of the University of Melbourne on November 23rd. Much of his work has great relevance to Melbourne’s planned expansion and to the design of green spaces in urban areas.

Richard started by noting that whilst there is much written about conservation, relatively little is written about humans’ relationship with biodiversity, despite the fact that the global environmental crisis results from human activity. Richard quipped about a fellow environmental volunteer in England that wore a badge “I hate people”.

Since it was discovered in the 80’s that patients recover more quickly with a view of trees than a brick wall, the link between nature and people has been much studied. Richard asks from an ecological point of view: “Is it the colour green that has an effect? Would any vegetation do, or is it biodiversity?” Someone from the audience remarked about the role of ‘blue’ (oceans and waterways).

Richard’s research indicates that not only can people evaluate rather accurately the number of plant species in an area, their wellbeing increases with that number. Surprisingly, people undervalue the number of animal species present and their wellbeing does not significantly increase with butterfly or bird species richness (Fuller et. al. 2007). This is surprising particularly from a plant blindness theory point of view (Wandersee & Schussler, 1998) – less attention is typically given to plants as they are static.

Other research carried out in the UK, where bird feeding is encouraged, showed that maps of socio-economic distribution match maps of bird species numbers, percentage cover of green space and bird feeder density. Richard is now working in Australia (particularly in Brisbane but with much relevance for Melbourne) comparing the impacts on biodiversity and ecological processes between compact and sprawling urban forms.

Jessica Sushinsky is a colleague studying the impacts of urban growth over the next 20 years on Brisbane’s biodiversity. She recently established that all birds fare better overall at city scale with the high density option, however woodlands birds are more affected by urban sprawl, which also favours non-native birds. Modelling studies predicted an increase of local bird extinctions with a sprawling form of development and concentrated these in the lower affluent parts of the sprawl. These impacts do not seem to apply to the riparian environment. As a result they recommend higher density residential development that retains many of the larger interstitial green spaces.

Richard is currently conducting research in Brisbane on how city spaces influence our lifestyles and our wellbeing, as part of a joint project between UQ and CSIRO, named My life, My city.

Report by Pascale Pitot

More can be found at Fuller Lab

Works Cited

  • Fuller, R., (2007). Psychological benefits increases withbiodiversity. Biological Letters, 3, 390–394.
  • Wandersee, J., & Schussler, E. (1998). Toward a Theory of Plant
  • Blindness. Retrieved August 2010, from