Searching for backyard birds in virtual worlds: Internet queries mirror real species distributions


As technology mediates more of human experience, effective conservation will increasingly rely on understanding how wildlife inhabits the real world and how people engage with information about wildlife in the virtual world. We explored how interest in birds—as measured by Internet search activity—was shaped by geographic distributions of bird populations and human social and cultural activities. Searches for the common names of 68 resident bird species were positively associated with estimates of bird population densities across the United States. Additional social and cultural predictors that we expected to influence state-level interest in local bird species explained little geographic variation in search activity. Results were congruent across analyses that focused on different bird groups and geographic regions within the United States. Our findings suggest that Americans are attuned to the avifauna that reside in their state and search for information about local species on the Internet. To the extent that searches reflect public values, abundant and easily accessible search activity data can be used to increase the relevance of conservation messaging and the likelihood of conservation action.

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The authors would like to thank G. Frost and two anonymous reviewers for comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Justin Schuetz.

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Communicated by Danna J Leaman.

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Schuetz, J., Soykan, C.U., Distler, T. et al. Searching for backyard birds in virtual worlds: Internet queries mirror real species distributions. Biodivers Conserv 24, 1147–1154 (2015).

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  • Birds
  • Conservation
  • Google trends
  • Internet query
  • Local