Tag Archives: anthropogenic

A Review of Netflix’s Our Planet as a Conservation Tool

The new Attenborough-narrated Netflix series Our Planet aimed to put threats to the environment at its forefront. So how well did it do? (Image Credit: Mikedixson, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Nature documentaries and saving nature: Reflections on the new Netflix series Our Planet (2019) Jones, Thomas-Walters, Rust & VerissimoPeople and Nature, https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10052

The Crux

Nature documentaries have long been the starting point for many an ecologist. They’re the reason that David Attenborough has long been so idolised among lovers of nature. But whether or not they actually work as a conservation tool has always been a little more difficult to say. Additionally, while they’ve long showed the wonder of animals, plants, insects and everything in between, many have shied away from the damage that humans have inflicted on the planet. This week’s authors wanted to examine Netflix’s latest move into nature documentaries, Our Planet, and see if it delivered on their promise to showcase the anthropogenic dangers that ecosystems face today.

What They Did

The methods here were pretty simple. The scripts for Our Planet, as well as three other recent David Attenborough led documentaries (Blue Planet, Blue Planet II and Dynasties) were analysed. The percentage of the word count which dealt with threats to the natural world was calculated, as well that which dealt with success stories regarding species and ecosystem conservation.

What They Found

Our Planet did spend more time talking about the dangers to the planet than the other three documentaries, with only Blue Planet II having a similar word count. Blue Planet II  actually spent more time on conservation success stories than Our Planet (although most of this was packed into one final episode). One of the issues present though was that the visuals remain largely unchanged, with human impact on nature largely confined to Attenborough’s narration. This may have lessened the show’s impact on viewers and given the impression of nature as constantly stunning and untouched.

The constant portrayal of nature as untouched by humans can give a false impression of how brutal the effects of fragmentation and habitat disturbance are

The constant portrayal of nature as untouched by humans can give a false impression of how brutal the effects of fragmentation and habitat disturbance are (Image Credit: Sam Perrin, NTNU, CC BY-SA 2.0)


There aren’t problems with the study itself so much as with the questions it posts. Sure, Our Planet spends more time talking about issues like climate change and deforestation, but does that translate to a tangible effect? It’s extremely difficult to study the effect of nature documentaries on conservation efforts. One tangible example that the paper brings up is the UK policy change on marine plastics, which is somewhat credited to the final episode of Blue Planet II. Even then, how much the documentary actually played into the policy decision is debatable.

So What?

It’s a problem faced by nature filmmakers everywhere – you want to show the truth, but are worried that anything too depressing or severe will reduce viewership. And as stated above, even if documentaries do start to bring the impact of humans on nature more front and center, it’s difficult to know whether this aids conservation efforts. For starters, people who watch nature documentaries are likely to already have some sort of interest in nature, which makes viewers a biased sampling pool. The good news is that there are a growing number of methods which could be used to deal with these issues. Hopefully we will start to see some tangible effect of the work of Attenborough and the rest of the nature documentary industry some day soon.

The Effects of City Life On a Species’ Body

Species like the anole exist in natural and urban environments. So how does where they live affect their body shape? (Image Credit: RobinSings, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Linking locomotor performance to morphological shifts in urban lizards (2018) Winchell, K. et al., Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, 285, http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2018.0229

The Crux

We know that human construction leads to displacement of many species, regardless of the ecosystem. But just because we put up a city, doesn’t mean that all the species that lived there go disappear. Some stay and adapt to their new surroundings. Understanding how certain types of organism respond to new environments is important when considering our impact on a species.

Today’s paper looks at the response of lizards, in this case anoles, to living in the city. The authors wanted to find out, among other things, whether individuals of the selected species showed different locomotive abilities on natural and man-made surfaces based on whether or not they came from the city or the forest, and whether these corresponded to morphological differences.

Read more

Population Trends in the Face of Climate Change

The Indian Pond Heron, one species which could face population declines as a result of climate change

The Indian Pond Heron, one species which could face population declines as a result of climate change (Image Credit: Dr Raju Kasambe, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Rapid warming is associated with population decline among terrestrial birds and mammals globally (2018) Spooner et al., Global Change Biology, DOI: 10.1111/gcb.14361

The Crux

The term climate change is almost ubiquitous these days. Humans tend to concentrate on how the warming of certain parts of the globe will affect them, but the species we share the globe with also experience a myriad of effects at the hands of climate change. These include rising temperatures constricting the ranges of some species and concurrently extending the range of others, who can move into areas that were previously too cold for them.

Whilst the focus of climate change has often been on species range shifts, the effects on species abundances are less well studied. This paper attempts to quantify the effects of climate change on a large number of bird and mammal species, whilst accounting for other factors which could affect species abundances, like rates of land use by humans, species body size, and whether or not the animals are in a protected area.

Read more