Skip to main content
Biology LibreTexts

8.4: Nonmaterial Contributions

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    Nonmaterial contributions from nature, also called cultural services, include the subjective and psychological aspects of nature that influence our perceptions about quality of life. These contributions can be divided into three subcategories: inspiration and learning support, supporting psychological and physical experiences, and supporting individual and group identities.

    Inspiration and learning support

    Nature has inspired artists and writers throughout history. Consequently, many books, television programs, movies, and websites produced for entertainment purposes are based on natural themes. This infusion of nature into popular culture is worth billions of dollars per year. To take one example, the 1994 Disney blockbuster The Lion King, based on the lives of a variety of African savannah animals, generated revenues estimated at just under US $1 billion from theater attendances alone. It was so successful that three movie sequels, an animated television series, and several video games and books followed. A musical based on The Lion King movie plot continues to be a top-earning title in box-office history for both stage productions and films.

    Movies featuring stunning natural landscapes and charismatic wildlife often increase the desire of moviegoers to visit natural areas where they can see these landscapes and animals first-hand. But it can also raise awareness of environmental issues in new audiences. While many documentaries are created with this purpose in mind, such benefits can also extend to blockbuster movies meant for broader audiences (Silk et al., 2018). For example, Disney’s Happy Feet (2006) highlighted the threat of overfishing and plastic pollution to penguins; Avatar (2009) raised awareness of habitat loss and overharvesting; and The Jungle Book (2016) exposed audiences to the plight of pangolins. Such exposure can even lead to environmentally conscious behavioural changes. For example, moviegoers were willing to donate 50% more money to climate mitigation after watching the apocalyptic movie The Day After Tomorrow (2004) (Balmford et al., 2004). Perhaps, in part, due to the influence of environmentally-orientated movies, an increasing number of movie stars (and other celebrities) have started using their stardom as a platform from where they promote biodiversity conservation efforts in Africa (Duthie et al. 2017; see also

    Scientists and engineers also sometimes turn to nature to seek inspiration for new technologies or to solve innovation challenges. For example, the water-vapor collecting capacity of the racing stripe darkling beetle (Stenocara gracilipes) from the Namib Desert in Namibia (Figure 8.4.1) inspired engineers who developed self-filling water bottles (Clark, 2012), irrigation systems to overcome drought conditions (Scott, 2011), fog-free windows and mirrors (Parker and Lawrence, 2011), and methods for controlling condensation and frost on aircraft surfaces (Boreyko et al., 2016). While these and other scientific endeavors, collectively known as biomimicry, provide many social and economic benefits, their primary value comes from new knowledge, improved education, and enriched human experiences.

    Figure 8.4.1 The racing stripe darkling beetle is endemic to one of the world’s most arid regions, Namibia’s Namib Desert. To survive, it collects water from early-morning fog with the bumps on its back. In a classic case of biomimicry, creative entrepreneurs are copying these features to create self-filling water bottles and fog-free windows. Photograph by Alex Rebelo,, CC BY 4.0.

    Supporting psychological and physical experiences

    While the economic benefits gained from nature incentivizes biodiversity protection, many people believe that the aesthetic values of nature provide an even greater incentive for conservation. This principle rests on the fact that nearly everyone enjoys wildlife and landscapes aesthetically. Even city-dwellers who are superficially removed from nature find a sense of relief and well-being when they have opportunities to come in close contact with the natural world. But what if dragonflies and butterflies disappeared? What if our favorite sports team’s mascot ceased to exist in nature? What if there were no more forests filled with bird flocks or monkey troops?

    The intangible but desirable aesthetic values people attach to certain aspects of nature are known as amenity values. Amenity values are becoming increasingly important in many local and national economies, in the form ecotourism. At any one time, there are millions of tourists traveling and spending money to see particular species or to experience unique ecosystems. This includes scuba divers approaching a coral reef (Figure 8.4.2), birdwatchers visiting a rare species’ stakeout, and people on a safari to view flagship species.

    Figure 8.4.2 Scuba divers on vacation at Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique, appreciating a large potato bass (Epinephelus tukula, LC). The income to be gained from ecotourism activities often outweighs the profits from unsustainable harvesting, and thus provides a strong economic justification for biodiversity conservation. Photograph by Derek Keats,, CC BY 2.0.

    The revenue and jobs generated by ecotourism provides a strong and immediate justification to protect biodiversity and restore areas that have been degraded.

    The revenue and jobs generated by ecotourism provides a strong and immediate justification to protect areas rich with biodiversity or to restore areas that have been degraded. Ecotourism can even be integrated directly in plans for future development, protection, and restoration. The revenue obtained from ecotourism also allows local people to move away from unsustainable hunting, fishing, or grazing practices towards lifestyles that can be maintained in the long term.

    Supporting individual and group identities

    Many people care deeply about biodiversity. The thought of a charismatic animal or a special landscape (Figure 8.4.3) may elicit a strong emotional response, which leads to a desire to protect plants, animals, and natural places. For some people, this desire is associated with a hope to someday see those unique species or landscapes in person. Others do not expect or even desire to see these species and landscape themselves, yet they value their existence. In either case, these individuals recognize the existence values of wildlife and nature—the benefit people receive from simply knowing that an ecosystem or species exists. Bequest values (also known as beneficiary values) is a component of existence values, defined as the perceived benefit people receive from preserving a natural resource or species for future generations.

    Field of California poppies.
    Figure 8.4.3 Each year, after the spring rains, California's central valley comes alive with a rich tapestry of color, attracting wildflower enthusiasts from all over the world. Photo by Mike Ostrovsky on Unsplash

    The desire to ensure the protection of biodiversity has prompted a wide range of people to establish, join, or otherwise contribute to conservation organizations. For many people involved in these organizations, their participation stems from the ethical premise that wildlife are equal to human life, and that biodiversity conservation offers genuine and long-lasting well-being. This environmental philosophy is often described as deep ecology, the ethical premise that species and biodiversity have a right to exist independent of their possible benefits to humans, and that humans have an inherent responsibility to protect species and biodiversity. Deep ecology holds that social structures (including politics, economics, technology, and ideology) must change radically to reduce the destruction of Earth’s biodiversity and to enhance people’s quality of life. It emphasizes and prioritizes the natural environment, aesthetics, religion, and culture, rather than material consumption. Although the ethical appreciation of biodiversity is similar in deep ecology and conservation biology, deep ecology includes broader goals for personal, social, and political change.

    Biodiversity forms the basis of spiritual, celebratory, and other social-cohesion experiences for many people.

    Biodiversity also forms the basis of spiritual, celebratory, and other social-cohesion experiences for many people. It ensures people experience a sense of place and belonging, reminds them of childhood experiences, and gives a sense of connection when they experience natural sights, sounds and smells. All these factors play a major role in people’s sense of who we are—our identity.

    This page titled 8.4: Nonmaterial Contributions is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by John W. Wilson & Richard B. Primack (Open Book Publishers) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.