Research Article: High school students’ knowledge of endangered fauna in the Brazilian Cerrado: A cross-species and spatial analysis

Date Published: April 25, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Marcos Aurélio de Amorim Gomes, Tatiel Venâncio Gonçalves, Fabrício Barreto Teresa, Hélida Ferreira da Cunha, Flávia Pereira Lima, João Carlos Nabout, Stephen P. Aldrich.


The ability of high school students to know endangered species can vary among species (e.g., large body size can influence people’s interest) or among municipalities (e.g., more contact with biodiversity can influence people’s interest). Thus, in the present paper, we evaluated high school students’ knowledge about the endangered and non-endangered mammalian species of the Brazilian Cerrado. We tested whether the recognition of the endangered and non-endangered species varied in a cross-species analysis (twelve total species) according to species characteristics, such as body size, popularity, endangered status and the length of time of inclusion on the endangered species list. Moreover, we tested whether the recognition of the endangered mammal species varied between municipalities (spatial analysis). We interviewed 366 students in their first year of high school in 21 schools (one in each municipality). Our results indicated that the proportion of correctly identified endangered species varied according to species (cross-species). The endangered species that were most often correctly identified were Myrmecophaga tridactyla (known by its popular name, Tamanduá-bandeira, in Brazil), Priodontes maximus (Tatu canastra) and Panthera onca (onça-pintada), with more than 80% correct answers. Thus, students tended to recognize the more popular species and the endangered species more than the non-endangered species. The analysis of student knowledge according to municipality demonstrated that the students’ ability to recognize endangered species followed a spatial pattern. Finally, the cross-species and spatial variation patterns detected in the present study indicated the importance of formal education in increasing high school students’ knowledge about endangered species and suggested that education should also promote less well-known species, species with smaller body sizes, and other groups of vertebrates and invertebrates and consider local and regional biodiversity whenever possible.

Partial Text

The high rate of deforestation and the conversion of native areas into agricultural land and pastures results in an ongoing decrease in biodiversity and a loss of ecosystem services [1]. This entire process has reached a global scale and is now identified as the sixth mass extinction, the first to stem from anthropogenic causes [2, 3]. The human population perceives the impacts of environmental changes but does not effectively engage in actions that promote sustainability [4]. The main cause could be the lack of environmental literacy, which subsidizes decision making [5]. There is an urgent need to understand people’s environmental perception and knowledge to engage stakeholders in effective conservation actions [6, 7, 8]. Human social aspects become a key element in the conservation of species and ecosystems [9, 10].

For high school students, the main source of information about biodiversity in the Cerrado was school (78% of the students), followed by television (76%) and the Internet (59%). Moreover, the main threats to the Cerrado biome perceived by the students were deforestation (62%), burning (41%), hunting (24%) and pollution (12%). The other threats to Cerrado biodiversity (e.g., agriculture, urbanization and siltation) totaled 32%.

The present paper used two approaches to investigate students’ knowledge about the endangered and non-endangered mammalian of the Cerrado (cross-species) and patterns in spatial variation. Our results showed substantial variation in the percentage of correct answers according to species and localities. These results are in accord with our expectations that the knowledge of a species varies according to the attributes of the species and the previous experiences of the students with biodiversity. The rate of correct answers of a species status (endangered and non-endangered) was higher for the endangered species, suggesting that students were able to recognize the endangered species from the non-endangered species. Moreover, the students’ performance in the recognition of the endangered species is explained by species popularity, which partially supports our species-based hypothesis. However, the spatial variation in the percentage of correct answers about endangered species among the municipalities was explained by the self-reported recognition of the students rather than socioeconomic status or school characteristics. These results partially support our spatial pattern hypothesis.




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