Classroom Resources: Ecological Freakonomics

By Jonah Lehrer
July-September 2008 / Vol. 9 No. 3

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Discussion Questions

  • The author describes Lui’s research on the Wolong Nature Reserve as focusing on the influence of social factors on conservation, and named “income of the local villagers” and “demographic changes in the labor force” as examples.  Can you think of other social factors, either in China or elsewhere in the world, which could have an influence on the success of conservation strategies?
  • The spatial scale over which important social factors operate—such as local, regional, of national—must be considered.  For example, while “demographic changes in the labor force” might have an important influence on conservation at the Wolong Nature Reserve, these changes could be measured either in just the local area surrounding the reserve or nationally.  How might social factors incorporating large spatial scales exert an influence on local conditions?  Why might it be necessary to understand the spatial scale over which a critical social factor operates?
  • Why might it be important to understand the influence of social factors on the success of conservation strategies?  Consider reasons both in the context of designing strategies and of implementing strategies.
  • Lui and his colleagues discovered that the overall size of a population was much less important than the number of households.  Yet most social factors are driven by other social factors.  What social factors might influence the number of households?  Consider both those identified in the article and others that you think might be expected to have an effect.
  • The author notes that maximum number of bird species (“bird richness”) occurs where an intermediate level of forest destruction (40 to 50 percent) is found.  What does this finding suggest about the resiliency of ecological communities?  What does it suggest about the appropriateness of “richness” as a conservation goal?

Websites for Further Information

Effects of Social Factors on Conservation in the News

Key Concepts

  • Social factors
  • Social science
  • Human population
  • Demographic factors