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Social value shift in favour of biodiversity conservation in the United States

A Publisher Correction to this article was published on 16 December 2020

This article has been updated


Global biodiversity loss is indicative of the massive influence of human activity that defines the Anthropocene. Some scholars argue that changes in behaviour at the scale necessary to address this crisis will require wholesale change in cultural values. However, evidence is lacking on whether values are shifting. To better understand this phenomenon, we analysed long-term, large-scale trend data regarding wildlife values in the United States, collected through a 19-state survey in 2004 (n = 12,673) and 2017–2018 (n = 20,674). Findings confirmed an increased endorsement of mutualism values (seeing wildlife as part of one’s social community and deserving of rights like humans) accompanied by a decline in values emphasizing domination (treating wildlife as resources to be used for human benefit), a trend further visible in cross-generational cohort analysis. We also found strong associations between state-level values and trends in urbanization, connecting the shift to macro-level socioeconomic factors. Results suggest positive outcomes for conservation but the field’s ability to adapt will be critical to realizing those outcomes.

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Fig. 1: Changes in value scores among 19 western US states between 2004 and 2018.
Fig. 2: Changes in value types among among 19 western US states between 2004 and 2018.
Fig. 3: Changes in value types within and between generational cohorts among 19 western US states between 2004 and 2018.
Fig. 4: Percentages of hunters by percentages of mutualists across 19 western US states, 2004 and 2018.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Change history


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We thank the Western and Midwest Associations of Fish and Wildlife Agencies for their sponsorship of this study, which was funded by state agency contributions and a grant awarded through the 2015 Multistate Conservation Grants Program (grant no. F15AP00726). We also thank the following individuals for their contributions to the project: A. Don Carlos, A. Dietsch, L. Sullivan, A. Bright, D. Fulton, D. Smith, L. Kruckenberg, D. VonDeBur, C. Campbell, C. Boyd, L. Cornicelli, M. Duda, A. Criscione and A. Lanier.

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Authors and Affiliations



M.J.M. wrote the manuscript with input from all of the authors. M.J.M. and T.L.T. conceptualized and designed the project, secured funding and collected the data. J.T.B. and S.K. contributed to conceptual development. R.E.W.B. conducted data analysis.

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Correspondence to Michael J. Manfredo.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Sarah Bekessy, Joern Fischer and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Manfredo, M.J., Teel, T.L., Berl, R.E.W. et al. Social value shift in favour of biodiversity conservation in the United States. Nat Sustain 4, 323–330 (2021).

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