Using data from online social networks in conservation science: which species engage people the most on Twitter?

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

I thank Adam Felton, Navinder J. Singh, Andrew Allen and two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jean-Michel Roberge.

Additional information

Communicated by Marcelo F. Tognelli.

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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

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Keywords

  • Endangered Species Act
  • Microblogs
  • Online networking services
  • Public attention
  • Species at risk
  • Twitter