The natural provenance: ecoliteracy in higher education in Mississippi

Sherry S. Herron, University of Southern Mississippi

Abstract

Researchers suggest there is an increasing apathy in the study of natural history in academic settings and in the scientific community. However, most studies of environmental knowledge do not address knowledge of local flora and fauna; they are concerned with the knowledge of environmental issues or broad ecological knowledge. Ecoliteracy established local natural history as fundamental to environmental knowledge and seeks to determine the knowledge of local environments and factors associated with that knowledge. This study investigated ecoliteracy in Mississippi, determining knowledge of local flora and fauna of undergraduate and graduate students at the largest universities. Ecoliteracy levels in Mississippi were low. Students had a rudimentary knowledge of local flora and fauna, despite coursework in natural history. Students majoring in wildlife and fisheries and biology had more advanced knowledge of local flora and fauna than non-biology majors. Students were most knowledgeable of reptiles and amphibians, and least of fish and endangered species. The number of environmental courses taken and environmental sensitivity were positively correlated with ecoliteracy, and were strong predictors of ecoliteracy. Ecoliteracy was influenced by coursework and experience with degree programs including fieldwork. Natural history knowledge was deficient at Mississippi universities. Researchers suggest reintroducing coursework focused on ecoliteracy.