The effect of information transfer related to soil biodiversity on Flemish citizens' preferences for forest management

Iris Vanermen*, Roselinde Kessels, Kris Verheyen, Bart Muys, Liesbet Vranken

*Corresponding author for this work

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Despite its essential role in the delivery of ecosystem services, forest soil biodiversity experiences pressures, especially of anthropogenic origin. Forest management can harm or support soil biodiversity, depending on the management decisions taken, but currently generally overlooks soils. Management decisions considerably depend on public opinion, that often conflicts with foresters' viewpoint and differs from what is ecologically optimal. Moreover, public opinion is mostly ignorant of soil biodiversity, creating opportunities for information to strengthen consideration of soil biodiversity amongst citizens. Therefore, this study assesses public preferences for forest management affecting soil biodiversity, and investigates the effect of an information treatment related to soil biodiversity on these preferences. For this purpose, we conducted a discrete choice experiment with a representative sample of 299 Flemish citizens, including an information treatment in a within subjects study design. Results showed that the information treatment significantly increased preferences for higher shares of old trees and dead wood, tree species mixing and tree logging through fixed logging roads, which support soil biodiversity. Heterogeneity in preferences was found but decreased after the information treatment. Specifically, 67% of the respondents focused on aesthetics and recreation before the information treatment, while their preferences for biodiversity components, tree logging and regulating ecosystem services considerably increased after the information treatment. Providing information is expected to increase preferences of these individuals most, who generally were less familiar with forests and soil biodiversity. On the other hand, familiar individuals more knowledgeable of soil biodiversity disclosed preferences that encouraged a wider set of forest management intensities. Policy makers can use this information to increase valuation of soil biodiversity by citizens regarding their forest management preferences. Eventually, this can help to achieve public acceptance of management choices that support soil biodiversity and foster adoption of such choices amongst foresters.
Original languageEnglish
Article number145791
Number of pages17
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021


  • Discrete choice experiment
  • Environmental valuation
  • Forest management decision making
  • Information treatment
  • Preference heterogeneity
  • Soil biodiversity

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