Knowledge about the level of public attention toward different species is crucial to successful conservation. The evolution of online social networks offers new possibilities for collecting data about public interest. Building on an analysis of text messages on Twitter, this study aimed to quantify the level of public attention toward different mammal and bird species listed (at the full species or subspecies/population level) under the United States’ Endangered Species Act (ESA). Once a month during 1 year, I searched recently posted messages (‘tweets’) for the common names of every listed species. The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) was by far the most tweeted species. The other most tweeted mammals were the American bison (Bison bison), brown bear (U. arctos), cougar (Puma concolor), killer whale (Orcinus orca), black bear (U. americanus) and West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), respectively. The three most frequently tweeted birds were the sandhill crane (Grus canadensis), whooping crane (G. americana) and spotted owl (Strix occidentalis). Some species, such as the manatee, right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), and gray wolf (Canis lupus) ranked higher when restricting the search to conservation contexts. The results suggest that Twitter users interact about a biased sample of ESA-listed species: mammals were better represented than birds among the most tweeted species and larger-sized species received more tweets. The findings can be used for prioritizing conservation education and marketing campaigns aiming to raise the profile of lesser-known listed species. Data from online social networks open the door for a range of novel applications in conservation science.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Ballouard J-M, Brischoux F, Bonnet X (2011) Children prioritize virtual exotic biodiversity over local biodiversity. PLoS ONE 6(8):e23152
Barua M, Root-Bernstein M, Ladle RJ, Jepson P (2011) Defining flagship uses is critical for flagship selection: a critique of the IUCN climate change flagship fleet. Ambio 40:431–435
Beevolve (2012) An exhaustive study of Twitter users across the world. Beevolve Technologies, London. http://www.beevolve.com/twitter-statistics/. Accessed 15 Oct 2012
Bik HM, Goldstein MC (2013) An introduction to social media for scientists. PLoS Biol 11(4):e1001535
Caro T (2010) Conservation by proxy: indicator, umbrella, keystone, flagship and other surrogate species. Island Press, Washington, DC
Chew C, Eysenbach G (2010) Pandemics in the age of Twitter: content analysis of tweets during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. PLoS ONE 5:e14118
Clark JA, May RM (2002) Taxonomic bias in conservation research. Science 297:191–202
Clucas B, McHugh K, Caro T (2008) Flagship species on covers of US conservation and nature magazines. Biodivers Conserv 17:1517–1528
Czech B, Krausman PR, Borkhataria R (1998) Social construction, political power, and the allocation of benefits to endangered species. Conserv Biol 12:1103–1112
Eysenbach G (2002) Infodemiology: the epidemiology of (mis)information. Am J Med 113:763–765
Gavin MC, Solomon JN, Blank SG (2010) Measuring and monitoring illegal use of natural resources. Conserv Biol 24:89–100
Golbeck J, Grimes JM, Rogers A (2010) Twitter use by the US congress. J Am Soc Inf Sci Technol 61:1612–1621
Gonçalves B, Perra N, Vespignani A (2011) Modeling user’s activity on Twitter networks: validation of Dunbar’s number. PLoS ONE 6(8):e22656
Heberlein TA (2012) Navigating environmental attitudes. Conserv Biol 26:583–585
Kalland A (1993) Management by totemization: whale symbolism and the anti-whaling campaign. Arctic 46:124–133
Kareiva P, Marvier M (2012) What is conservation science? Bioscience 62:962–969
Kellert SR (1985) Social and perceptual factors in endangered species management. J Wildlife Manag 49:528–536
Kellert SR (1996) The value of life: biological diversity and human society. Island Press, Washington, DC
Knegtering E, Hendrickx L, van der Windt HJ, Schoot Uiterkamp AJM (2002) Effect of species’ characteristics on nongovernmental organizations’ attitudes toward species conservation policy. Environ Behav 34:378–400
Lislevand T, Figuerola J, Székely T (2007) Avian body sizes in relation to fecundity, mating system, display behavior, and resource sharing. Ecology 88:1605
McCallum ML, Bury GW (2013) Google search patterns suggest declining interest in the environment. Biodivers Conserv 22:1355–1367
McNeil K, Brna PM, Gordon KE (2012) Epilepsy in the Twitter era: a need to re-tweet the way we think about seizures. Epilepsy Behav 23:127–130
Metrick A, Weitzman ML (1996) Patterns of behavior in endangered species preservation. Land Econ 72:1–16
R Core Team (2013) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna
Richardson L, Loomis J (2009) The total economic value of threatened, endangered and rare species: an updated meta-analysis. Ecol Econ 68:1535–1548
Rodrigues ASL, Pilgrim JD, Lamoreux JF, Hoffmann M, Brooks TM (2006) The value of the IUCN Red List for conservation. Trends Ecol Evol 21:71–76
Scanfeld D, Scanfeld V, Larson EL (2010) Dissemination of health information through social networks: Twitter and antibiotics. Am J Infect Control 38:182–188
Signorini A, Segre AM, Polgreen PM (2011) The use of Twitter to track levels of disease activity and public concern in the US during the influenza A H1N1 pandemic. PLoS ONE 6(5):e19467
Smith FA, Lyons SK, Ernest SKM, Jones KE, Kauffman DM, Dayan T, Marquet PA, Brown JH, Haskell JP (2003) Body mass of late Quaternary mammals. Ecology 84:3403
Smith RJ, Veríssimo D, MacMillan DC (2010) Marketing and conservation: how to lose friends and influence people. In: Leader-Williams N, Adams W, Smith RJ (eds) Trade-offs in conservation: deciding what to save. Blackwell, Oxford
Smith RJ, Veríssimo D, Isaac NJB, Jones KE (2012) Identifying Cinderella species: uncovering mammals with conservation flagship appeal. Conserv Lett 5:205–212
Stokes DL (2007) Things we like: human preferences among similar organisms and implications for conservation. Hum Ecol 25:361–369
Twitter (2012a) Twitter turns six. Twitter, San Francisco. http://blog.twitter.com/2012/03/twitter-turns-six.html. Accessed 15 Oct 2012
Twitter (2012b) Twitter help center. Twitter, San Francisco. https://support.twitter.com/. Accessed 15 July 2012
Veríssimo D, MacMillan DC, Smith RJ (2011) Toward a systematic approach for identifying conservation flagships. Conserv Lett 4:1–8
Veríssimo D, MacMillan DC, Smith RJ, Barua M, Jepson P (2012) Selecting marine invertebrate flagship species: widening the net. Biol Conserv 145:4
Viralblog (2012) Twitter facts and figures. SocialMedia8, Amsterdam. http://www.viralblog.com/research-cases/twitter-facts-figures/. Accessed 23 Nov 2012
Walpole MJ, Leader-Williams N (2002) Tourism and flagship species in conservation. Biodivers Conserv 11:543–547
I thank Adam Felton, Navinder J. Singh, Andrew Allen and two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments on the manuscript.
Communicated by Marcelo F. Tognelli.
Electronic supplementary material
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.
About this article
Cite this article
Roberge, J. Using data from online social networks in conservation science: which species engage people the most on Twitter?. Biodivers Conserv 23, 715–726 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-014-0629-2
- Endangered Species Act
- Online networking services
- Public attention
- Species at risk