Russian Invasion

Before going back to my job at Chalmers after working at Region Västra Götaland for some months, I spent a weekend at the quaint village Tällberg in Dalecarlia. Much of the time I soaked in the spa and visited the many craft shops, but I also had time for some lovely walks.

During one of the longer strolls I saw and heard a woodpecker high up in a tree at the Lake Siljan. I was impossible for me to spot what species it was (partly because it was far away but mainly due to lack of knowledge...). According to the latest number of the journal Sveriges Natur it just might have been a white-backed woodpecker due to a large "invasion" probably from Russian Karelia. Since they are very rare in Sweden, this is an appreciated addition.
From Tällberg 2016
The white-backed woodpecker is a so called umbrella species. This means that if you protect it's habitat you will automatically also protect a great number of other animals. Another metaphor related to nature preservation is keystone species. Although often very few in a specific area, they have a disproportionately large effect on the environment relative to its abundance. Sea stars, jaguars, beavers, elephants and sea otters are just a few examples. The flagship species on the other hand help biodiversity conservation by becoming the focus of attention, where the giant panda perhaps is the best known in the world, being the symbol of WWF.

The use of metaphors in nature conservation should not be taken lightly. In the article "Mobilizing metaphors: the popular use of keystone, flagship and umbrella species concepts" from 2011 Dr Maan Barua, University of Oxford, presents results from investigating popular use of conservation terminology. According to Barua, everyday language plays a vital role in the interpretation of concepts, and metaphors influence peoples’ actions and understanding.

"The metaphors underpinning words allow people to interpret conservation terminology in undesirable and unforeseen ways. Better reporting and conservation literacy amongst reporters will no doubt be enabled by sustained inputs and closedialogues with conservation biologists, but it is important to keep in mind that someamount of misrepresentation is perhaps inevitable."

"For instance, the rootmetaphor of structure underpinning keystones endows species with special values of maintaining ecosystem stability and balance, and loss of keystones gets interpreted in termsof ecological collapse. Similarly, the flagship and umbrella metaphors value representationand protection. These metaphors build crucial links between scientific knowledge, con-servation action and public acceptance of such action. Their systematicity allows arguments to hold even though ecological complexities get overridden."

Barua draws the attention to Goodhart’s law: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

"Species depicted as keystone, flagship or umbrellas (in most cases large, threatened and charismatic mammals), gain preference over their ultimate goal of enabling ecosystem or biodiversity conservation. Metaphors reinforce the value of surrogates, shape peoples’ preferences and opinions. In turn, metaphors are further strengthened through popular usage. Hence, a problem of conservation also becomes a problem associated with language."

The article ends with this sentence: "As language shapes the way we think, act or intervene, conservation biology could equally benefit from strong metaphors that resonate with the public as much as be hindered by them."

Of course Barua refers to the works of George Lakoff, but oddly enough not to his book "Don't Think of an Elephant" ;-)
From Uganda 2013

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