"Long before it's in the papers"
January 28, 2015


Biodiversity good for mental health, scientists find

May 16, 2007
Special to World Science  

Bio­di­ver­sity, an ar­e­a’s rich­ness in dif­fer­ent spe­cies, is good for more than just the en­vi­ron­ment, re­search­ers have found: it ben­e­fits us psy­cho­log­i­cally, at least in city parks and green spaces.

For the world’s bur­geon­ing city pop­u­la­tions, “pub­lic ur­ban green­spaces pro­vide one of the few av­enues for di­rect con­tact with the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment,” the re­search­ers not­ed in a pa­per de­scrib­ing the stu­dy. “Such con­tact has meas­ur­a­ble phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fits.”

A wide di­ver­si­ty of or­gan­isms is good for more than just the crea­tures them­selves, re­search finds. (Im­age cour­te­sy City of Ver­nonia, Or­e­gon)

For in­stance, a 1984 study by Rog­er Ul­rich at Tex­as A&M Uni­ver­si­ty found that hos­pi­tal pa­tients re­cov­ered faster if their hos­pi­tal room win­dows over­looked trees rath­er than brick walls. 

The new study shows that ben­e­fits of this sort “in­c­rease with the spe­cies rich­ness of ur­ban green­spaces,” wrote the au­thors, Rich­ard Full­er and col­leagues at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Shef­field, U.K. The find­ings ap­peared on­line May 15 in the re­search jour­nal Bi­ol­o­gy Let­ters.

Full­er’s team stud­ied 15 ur­ban parks and green spaces through­out the U.K., an­a­lyz­ing their bio­di­ver­sity lev­els and ques­tion­ing vis­i­tors. The vis­i­tors were giv­en ques­tion­naires ask­ing wheth­er com­ing there helped them clear their minds, gain per­spec­tive on life, think eas­i­ly about per­son­al mat­ters or feel con­nect­ed to na­ture.

Vis­i­tors not on­ly felt bet­ter in more bio­di­verse places: they could rough­ly ac­cu­rate­ly gauge the lev­el of bio­di­ver­sity, at least in terms of eas­i­ly vis­i­ble spe­cies—birds, but­ter­flies and plants, the sci­en­tists found. 

The find­ings are important since about half of the world’s peo­ple now live in cit­ies, in­creas­ing­ly iso­lat­ed from na­ture and its ben­e­fits, Full­er and col­leagues wrote. The re­sults “in­di­cate that suc­cess­ful man­age­ment of ur­ban green­spaces should em­pha­size bi­o­log­i­cal com­plex­i­ty to en­hance hu­man well-be­ing in ad­di­tion to bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion,” they con­clud­ed.

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Biodiversity, an area’s richness in different species, is good for more than just the environment, researchers have found: it benefits us psychologically, at least in city parks and green spaces. For the world’s burgeoning city populations, “public urban greenspaces provide one of the few avenues for direct contact with the natural environment,” the researchers noted in a paper describing the study. “Such contact has measurable physical and psychological benefits.” For instance, a 1984 study by Roger Ulrich at Texas A&M University found that hospital patients recovered faster if their hospital room windows overlooked trees rather than a brick wall. The new study shows “that these psychological benefits increase with the species richness of urban greenspaces,” wrote the authors, Richard Fuller and colleagues at the University of Sheffield, U.K. The findings appeared online May 15 in the research journal Biology Letters. Fuller’s team studied 15 urban parks and green spaces throughout the U.K., analyzing their biodiversity levels and interviewing visitors. The visitors were given questionnaires asking whether coming to the area helped them clear their minds, gain perspective on life, think easily about personal matters or feel connected to nature. Visitors not only felt better in more biodiverse places: they could roughly accurately gauge the level of biodiversity, at least in terms of the easily visible species—birds, butterflies and plants, the scientists found. The findings are of concern since about half of the world’s people now live in cities, increasingly isolated from nature and its benefits, Fuller and colleagues wrote. “These results indicate that successful management of urban greenspaces should emphasize biological complexity to enhance human well-being in addition to biodiversity conservation,” they concluded.