Urban versus rural? The effects of residential status on species identification skills and connection to nature.
Urbanization and urban lifestyles increasingly disconnect people from nature in a process that was termed the 'extinction of experience'. This loss of human-nature interactions can undermine both cognitive (ecological knowledge) and affective (emotional connection to nature) relations to nature, further impacting capabilities to experience, care for, benefit from and act to protect nature. Yet, the extent to which the urban life influences both cognitive and affective relations to nature, remains poorly understood and research is confined to a few countries and cultures. We explored how cognitive and affective relations to nature can be related to people's childhood and current place of residency. We expected that urban dwellers, who have less opportunities to experience nature than their rural counterparts, will be less connected to nature and will demonstrate lower ecological knowledge than their rural counterparts. We conducted four surveys in Israel, in urban and rural settings between 2015 and 2018 (N = 1706) to measure and compare (urban vs. rural) the following variables: (a) species identification skills (correctly identified); (b) familiarity (recognized), as two measures of cognitive relation with nature and (c) nature relatedness, as a measure of emotional connection to nature. The ability to identify common plant, bird and butterfly species was poor in general (Av. = 3.83 out of 12), and lower for urban dwellers (Av. = 2.48) compared to their rural counterparts (Av. = 6.56). Differences in correct species identifications between urban and rural dwellers varied with taxa and peaked for butterflies (only 26 respondents managed to identify one species or more). We also identified an important gap between familiarity and species identification skills, especially for urban residents. Finally, people who currently live or used to live in rural areas during their childhood had higher scores of nature relatedness than their urban counterparts. Our results highlight that decreased opportunity to interact with nature reduces cognitive and affective relations to nature. Such reductions can affect the overall preferences for human-nature relationships and exacerbate a pervasive negative cycle that modifies relational values such as, care for nature, sense of belonging, place and identity that influence both humans well-being and environmental stewardship.