In recent years, there has been a greater recognition that success of conservation efforts as well as overall economic well-being depend on ecological and environmental factors that are largely shaped by human influence and that the human factor should be taken into consideration if conservation is to be effective (Folke 2006; Sarukhán 2006). With funding for conservation ever more competitive while environmental issues requiring conservation efforts are ever more numerous, the need to have an interdisciplinary approach to conservation, one that draws from beyond just the biological sciences, has never been greater. With this in mind, I have approached the problem of bird and habitat conservation from a human dimensions perspective. My research involves 3 key components: economics, education, and environmental sociology.

ECONOMICS: Building the Better Birding Trail: Birdwatching Ecotourism and the Mississippi Coastal Birding Trail

A primary goal of ecotourism is to integrate economic well-being with sustainable use, and therefore conservation of, natural resources. According to this model of conservation, communities must benefit economically for conservation to take place. Sarukhán (2006) illustrates this relationship:

“ There will be little hope for conservation and sustainable management if owners of ecosystems have no economic incentives (and therefore alternatives) but to cut down forest or convert their ecosystems into other kinds of productive systems, even if production is short term.”

It is with this proposed relationship in mind that this project examines: 1) the economic impact of birdwatching along the Mississippi and Alabama coasts and 2) the recreational preferences of birdwatchers as they relate to economic development variables. These data will be used to support the use of ecotourism as a local economic development tool in coastal Mississippi and to make informed decisions on the restructuring of the Mississippi Coastal Birding Trail so that it is sustainable, and more effective at conservation and at positively impacting local economies.

EDUCATION: The Educational Impact of a Birdwatching Citizen Science Program Implemented in Schools

Conservation education starts with a basic appreciation of nature. Recent popular (Louv 2005) and scientific (Pergams and Zaradic 2006, 2008) literature have suggested that a disconnect exists between humans, especially children, and nature. A recurring theme in this literature is that direct involvement in nature is being replaced by technology and other diversions. As children do make decisions about how to involve themselves in the natural world and positive childhood experiences can influence an individual's attitudes towards nature as an adult (e.g. Thompson et al. 2008), it is important to understand what factors may influence their decision making.

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a citizen science program run jointly by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This annual four-day event engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. The Pascagoula River Audubon Center (PRAC) in Moss Point, MS has been conducting the GBBC with schools in coastal MS for several years. However, no prior assessment of the GBBC or the in-class educational component has been conducted. This study will assess the impact of the program on its student participants and will evaluate what factors influence participation. The results of this study will be used to refine the educational approach to the GBBC program and will shed light on student involvement in science and in nature.

SOCIOBIOLOGY: The Environmental and Ecological Beliefs and Behaviors Of Adult Birdwatchers

Birdwatchers are dependent on natural resources to conduct their recreational activity and as such, are proposed to demonstrate a level of awareness of and concern for those resources commensurate with level of involvement. Previous research on other nature-based recreationists, however, has shown that individual meaning associated with an activity can serve to mediate this relationship (Bright and Porter 2001). Given that birdwatchers do not compose one homogeneous population (e.g. Cole and Scott 1999), I predict that individual meaning attached to the activity will partially or fully mediate the relationship. Further, given the differences among birdwatchers, it is hypothesized that there is a relationship between birdwatchers' 1) level of involvement, 2) expertise, and 3) motivation, and their knowledge of factors that influence bird populations and their conservation.

An understanding of birdwatchers' environmental views and knowledge of bird conservation issues is necessary to develop effective education on issues pertaining to conservation of natural resources geared towards this increasing population of recreationists.


The University of Southern Mississippi. Last modified: 24 February, 2007 . Questions and Comments?