The natural provenance: Ecoliteracy in higher education in Mississippi

Sarah Elizabeth Wheeless

Abstract

Researchers have suggested that there is an increasing apathy in the study of natural history both in academic settings and in the scientific community (Schmidly, 2005). Natural history is the cornerstone of ecological literacy. However, most studies of environmental knowledge do not directly address knowledge of local natural history. Instead, they concern knowledge of human environmental issues, environmental concepts, or broad ecological knowledge. Ecoliteracy established the study of natural history as fundamental to environmental knowledge and seeks to determine levels of knowledge of local environments and factors associated with that knowledge (Pilgrim et al., 2007). This study investigated ecoliteracy in Mississippi to determine knowledge of local flora and fauna of undergraduate and graduate students at the largest universities. Overall ecoliteracy in Mississippi was low at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students from School A had the highest levels of ecoliteracy. 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 proficient in fish and endangered species. Both number of environmental courses taken and environmental sensitivity were positively correlated with ecoliteracy. Student knowledge of local flora and fauna was most often influenced by courses completed and experience with education or degree programs including fieldwork and research. Natural history knowledge was deficient at Mississippi universities. Researchers suggest re-emphasizing university coursework focusing on local natural history.