Communities' perceptions and knowledge of ecosystem services: evidence from rural communities in Nigeria.
This research has been undertaken to improve our understanding of stakeholders' knowledge and perception about ecosystem services (ES), which provides a valuable means of gaining insight into the opportunities and constraints that face ES management in a multiuser landscape. Land use preferences are influenced by a variety of motives, attitudes, and values intrinsic to every individual's decision making. Knowledge can affect attitudes and behavioral intentions, and a positive attitude toward the environment has been found to predict conservation practices. Using primary data collected from a village survey of 102 villages in Nigeria between November 2012 and February 2013, this study assesses local communities' awareness, perceptions, and knowledge of a broad range of ES and examines the key factors that explain the variations in the level of awareness across communities, with a special focus on land uses within landscapes. We found that exposure to forest and lowland floodplains was positively correlated with people's level of awareness of ES, highlighting the importance of direct experience and local context in shaping people's perceptions toward ES. Such considerations should be taken into account when designing policies aimed at addressing natural resources and environmental management issues. While provisioning services were generally well recognized, consistent with findings of previous studies, a majority of the sampled villages also appreciated spiritual values as a cultural service. Communities' awareness and knowledge about regulating and supporting ES were generally very low, including those services that are important for maintaining the stability and productivity of agroecosystems (for example, pollination and biological pest control), warranting a greater role for agricultural extension to play in influencing community levels of awareness of ES in Nigeria. Furthermore, incorporating new concepts and topics about ES into the primary school curriculum will better educate people about the importance of ES. Finally, our assessment of communities' attitudes toward payments for environmental services suggests a need to respect local communities' preferences, norms, and traditions when designing policies that encourage natural resources management.