New research shows that nature affects our lives in more ways than you think

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People have been using the gifts of nature for a long time. However, in addition to being a primary source of food, water and raw materials, the natural world can contribute to people’s overall well-being through a range of intangible effects – and there are many more critical links between humans and nature, according to new research, than you might think.

After reviewing hundreds of scientific articles on “cultural ecosystem services” or the intangible benefits of nature, researchers identified 227 unique pathways through which human interactions with nature can positively or negatively impact wellbeing, according to an article published on Friday in the peer-to newspaper -peer. the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.

This article is believed to be the first of its kind to provide a comprehensive framework for understanding and quantifying the complex ways that humans and nature are interconnected. And his findings could have significant real-world implications, said Lam Thi Mai Huynh, lead author and a PhD student at Tokyo University.

“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 enable local people to help maintain and manage ecosystem services.”

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For Huynh, the ambitious research – an endeavor that even her research director initially thought might not be possible – resulted from a desire to better understand the complex processes underlying the intangible effects of nature – such as opportunities for recreation and relaxation, and spiritual fulfillment – to influence well-being . One of the main challenges, however, is that much of the existing scientific literature on cultural ecosystem services is ‘highly fragmented’, the review notes.

“You have a lot of different people to look at [the intangible benefits of nature] from a different perspective, ”said Alexandros Gasparatos, associate professor at the Institute for Future Initiatives at Tokyo University, co-author of the article. While conducting a wide variety of research is crucial, he said, “It’s a bit hard to put it all together.”

But the new study, a systematic review of some 300 peer-reviewed scientific articles, creates an “excellent knowledge base,” said Gasparatos.

“The purpose of doing this exercise is to understand the relationship,” he added. “We name phenomena.”

The review looks at hundreds of possible links between different aspects of human well-being (including mental and physical health, bonding and belonging, and spirituality) and cultural ecosystem services such as recreation and tourism, aesthetic value and social relationships. Then, scientists took it a step further and identified over a dozen distinct mechanisms underlying how humans interact with nature to influence their well-being.

Researchers found that the greatest positive contributions were seen in mental and physical health. According to the authors, recreation, tourism and aesthetic value have the greatest impact on human health through the ‘regenerative’ mechanism or experiencing the regenerative effects of being in nature, such as relaxing. Meanwhile, the greatest negative effects are related to mental health through the ‘destructive’ mechanism or direct damage associated with the degradation or loss of cultural ecosystem services, the researchers wrote.

“You don’t actually have just one path,” and the effects are not always positive, said Gasparatos. “It’s not that if I go to the forest, I get one thing.”

For example, a well-designed park can be a place for recreation and relaxation, and for connecting with other people. You can also appreciate the sight of tall trees and lush greenery or birds and other wildlife. On the other hand, poorly maintained natural space can lead to an unsightly or visually threatening landscape that can make you feel uncomfortable or afraid of being there.

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The article could be a kind of roadmap, Huynh said, to help people, especially policymakers, understand that there are not only various intangible benefits to interacting 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 contribute to improving nature’s contribution to human well-being”, in addition to potentially improving sustainable management practices and eliminating some of the negative effects on welfare.

The research was widely acclaimed by several external experts who were not involved in the work.

“It took a long time to do research like this that makes some of these connections a little clearer,” said Keith Tidball, an environmental anthropologist at Cornell University. “These things have been scattered all over the place for a long, long time, and this article takes a giant leap forward in sorting out what was previously quite confusing.”

Anne Guerry, director of strategy and principal scientist for the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University, agreed. “They did a really good job of bringing together an incredibly diverse literature,” she said. She noted that the challenge for scientists has been to present science in a way that reveals where and how nature benefits people most, which in turn can help “inform and motivate conservation and restoration investments that lead to better outcomes for both people and people.” and nature ”.

For example, research can influence the role nature potentially plays in human health. “What will be very useful is being able to continue working on the argument that doctors and clinicians can actually prescribe outdoor time, outdoor recreation, and even outdoor space, due to the paths they identified in this article -” said Tidball.

In one scenario, elements of this work could eventually be incorporated into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, said Elizabeth Haase, chairman of the American Psychiatric Association’s Climate Change and Mental Health Committee.

“This allows us to say that when we facilitate this kind of interaction with nature, you see these kinds of benefits, and then you prescribe these kinds of natural experiences or apply rules that say you really are depriving someone of their sanity if you destroy these natural landscapes,” she said. .

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The review, however, has some limitations, prompting some experts to warn against over-interpretation or over-emphasis on its results.

One potential problem is that the existing research included in the review focuses disproportionately on individuals rather than groups.

“A lot of times something can be really good for the individual, but it may not be very good for the community overall,” said Kevin Summers, senior research ecologist at the Office of Environmental Research and Development. Agency.

“In many cases, there can be unintended consequences for things that appear to be very simple, simple decisions,” Summers added.

Other research gaps also need to be considered, Guerry said. While the review suggests that some links between certain human welfare traits and cultural ecosystem services seem stronger than others, that doesn’t mean those other relationships may not be significant, she said.

“We have to be careful about oversimplifying the results and thinking that the lack of a documented relationship in this article means that something is not important,” she said. Instead, it may mean that “it has not been studied, and we have found no ways to quantify it and introduce it to the scientific literature beyond our kind of implicit understanding.”

Researchers addressed the limitations of their work, noting in the paper that future research “should thoroughly investigate how these pathways and mechanisms manifest in less studied ecosystems and understand their differing effects on different stakeholders.”

Meanwhile, discoveries serve as an important reminder of the necessity of nature.

“This could very well justify a” let’s invest in nature because it has all these advantages, “said Gasparatos.

With such strong positive gains in terms of creativity, belonging, regeneration, and more, “from this article, it’s easy to feel that your constitutional right to be happy requires your country to preserve its natural spaces,” Haase added.

At a time when many people are increasingly detached and distanced from “our ecological selves,” efforts to connect people with nature are not only interesting from a scientific, philosophical or ethical standpoint, said Tidball, but “there are also implications for human security. . that are significant. ” If steps are not taken to reconnect people with nature, the consequences could be dire, he said.

“If we follow the path as a species in a state of ecological amnesia,” he said, “we will be wasting our environment and time, and therefore we are out of luck.”

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