An international team of researchers from the University of Oxford, the University of Birmingham and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have found that the way in which people use the internet is closely tied to patterns and rhythms in the natural world. This finding, publishing March 5 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, suggests new ways to monitor changes in the world’s biodiversity. It also reveals new ways to see how much people care about nature, and which species and areas might be the most effective targets for conservation.

The team used Wikipedia pageview records to investigate whether people’s online interest in plants and animals follows seasonal patterns. They assembled a massive dataset of 2.33 billion pageviews spanning nearly three years for 31,715 species across 245 Wikipedia language editions. The researchers found that seasonal trends are widespread in Wikipedia interest for many species of plants and animals, and more than a quarter of the species in their dataset showed seasonality in their pageviews.

For these seasonal species, the researchers found that the amount and timing of internet activity is an accurate measure of when and how the species is present in the world outside the window. The team thinks it might be possible to measure changes in the presence and abundance of species simply by seeing how much internet activity there is about them.

Read more at University of Oxford