If and how we accept wild animals in our urban areas is important. It can determine whether they thrive or not.

Here, in the United States, 80% of us live in cities. If you’re in that majority, how do you feel about your wild neighbors, the animals who also live in our urban areas? It’s an important question to ask because your answer has major implications for biodiversity protections, nature conservation and urban planning.

Safeguarding biodiversity and nature while also attempting to develop spaces for our homes and workplaces, of course, takes money. To fund such conservation and city improvements, some researchers in Germany are now investigating an intriguing idea: could “nudging” have a positive effect on the sale of products that are made in accordance with high animal-welfare standards?

And some scientists are proposing that while we’re looking at ways to raise more funds for nature conservation, governments should apply a brand-new method for calculating the worth in benefits that arise from conserving biodiversity and nature for future generations. According to them, we’re currently woefully underrating that value.


Urban coyotes inspire both admiration for their adaptability and loathing when they’re seen as pet-eaters.

Animal acceptance depends on location

The relationship between city inhabitants and urban animals is complex—for us and for them. For example, urban coyotes inspire both admiration for their adaptability and loathing when they’re seen as pet-eaters.

So, to find out how city residents currently feel about living close to wild animals, researchers from Germany’s Technical University of Munich, the University of Jena and the Vienna University of Technology in Austria conducted a survey to find out how Munich residents rate 32 urban animal species and where in the city they would prefer to see them.

In the survey, city residents were able to choose from various locations in different proximities to their homes where they thought the animals should be found. The respondents said that all animals have a place in the city, except for a few, very unpopular species. In most cases, participants placed the animals in urban areas such as city parks, in the city in general, in the surrounding countryside and in their own neighborhoods.


A recent study shows how the acceptance of various wild animals in urban areas differs. Important factors are the places where the animals are found and their level of popularity; squirrels are one of the animals that came out on top.

In contrast, however, they rarely mentioned their immediate living environment, such as in their apartments, on their balconies or in their gardens. Participants placed some animals, such ladybugs and squirrels, in all or almost all locations. They placed many species in several locations, while three species were rarely placed at all: cockroaches, rats and slugs. It was found that city residents’ preferences for locations clearly correlate with their attitudes toward the animals; the ones that were generally more popular were, on average, placed closer to home by the respondents.

In general, respondents liked most of the animals. Twenty-three of the 32 animal species received positive approval ratings. Most birds and mammals were very popular. Arthropods, frogs and lizards were also rated positively. Exceptions were martens, rats, slugs, urban pigeons and wasps. Cockroaches were the least popular. Respondents had a neutral attitude toward ants, snakes and spiders.

The results, which were published in the Journal of Urban Ecology in March 2024, have significant ramifications for nature conservation and urban planning. Increasing urbanization makes it necessary to actively care for animals in the city and to design urban areas accordingly. If we know where people dislike or prefer certain animals, we can anticipate potential points of conflict. This allows us to identify places where species conservation in cities is accepted by people. The results show, for example, that human-wildlife conflicts are unlikely in city parks because the animals are accepted by most people there. Animals are also tolerated in the wider residential environment. Conversely, wildlife protection in the immediate proximity of the living space, such as on balconies or patios, could meet with resistance.


City residents reported that they preferred not to have wild animals in their immediate living environments, such as a crocodile on a backyard patio.

Animal-welfare monies rely on “nudges”

We may be willing to accept wild (and domestic) animals within our midst in certain circumstances, but are we willing to pay for their welfare?

To find out, scientists from Germany’s University of Bonn and the Technical University of Munich investigated the effect of “nudging” on the sale of products manufactured with stringent animal-welfare standards in a virtual supermarket. Nudges were defined as gentle prods or pushes designed to promote certain behaviors, such as placing some products in more visible positions in the supermarket. In the field of economics, nudging is often used to describe measures that can influence human behavior in a gentle way without banning things or offering monetary incentives.

Up to now in Germany, food produced according to high animal-welfare standards has only been moderately successful. It is unlikely that this is due to a lack of information because a four-stage, animal-husbandry labeling system—red, blue, orange or green—has been used over the last few years to mark packaging on many meat products. Nevertheless, animal-welfare products are still considered niche items in many supermarkets; and as a result, only 13% of the meat products offered in supermarkets are produced according to husbandry standards that exceed the minimum legal guidelines.


Markings on a store floor shaped like footprints are an example of what’s called “nudging,” a measure that can influence human behavior in a gentle way, such as guiding customers to certain shelves.

To test whether it was possible to improve sales of animal-welfare products by increasing their availability and visibility, the researchers used two digital supermarkets in the form of 3D simulations, with graphics based on modern video games. The customers saw the shelves from a first-person perspective and were able to pick up and examine the products from all sides, place them in their shopping carts and finally purchase them at the end. The purchasing decision was only hypothetical, however, because the participants were not expected to actually pay for their shopping and no real products were delivered to them afterwards.

The researchers divided the test subjects into two groups. One group was asked to go shopping in a conventional virtual supermarket, while the other group visited a virtual supermarket containing various nudging elements. For example, markings on the floor shaped like footprints guided customers to a special “animal-welfare shelf.” Consumers in this group were able to find eggs, meat and milk produced with high animal-welfare standards in one central location on this additional shelf. Large banners placed in different locations in the store also made the customers aware of this special shelf.

According to the study’s results, which were published in the journal Appetite in June 2024, the implementations were a huge success: on average, the nudging group selected animal-welfare products almost twice as frequently as the control group.


Germany has some of the strictest animal-welfare laws worldwide. No other country in the European Union has integrated animal welfare into its constitution as Germany has. However, up to now, food produced according to high animal-welfare standards has only been moderately successful there.

However, the extent to which the results can be transferred to the purchase of real food is still unclear. Many people are extremely price sensitive, and animal-welfare products are generally significantly more expensive. In this experiment, say the researchers, they suspect that this played only a minor role because the purchases were virtual. Nevertheless, the data from the study did show that price-sensitive customers also selected the more expensive animal-welfare products less frequently from the digital counters in the supermarket than customers who are less price sensitive. They thus behaved in a similar way to what we would expect in reality.

Another interesting aspect of this study was that the price-sensitive test subjects were also influenced by the nudging measures and purchased more food produced according to the high animal-welfare standards. It appears that these gentle nudges influenced these people, too.

More studies are needed to see how reliable these effects are, whether nudging exerts a long-term effect and if the technique will translate to wildlife welfare, conclude the scientists.

AdobeStock (Created by Candice Gaukel Andrews)

Pollinators—such as honeybees, bats and butterflies—are hard at work providing vital but often unnoticed ecosystem services. They pollinate crops like almonds, apples, bananas, blueberries, chocolate, coffee, melons, peaches, potatoes, strawberries and vanilla.

Animal worth counts on the cost-benefit test

But the flip side of what we’re willing to pay to protect wildlife is the value that wildlife and nature gives to us. Now, researchers are proposing that governments apply a new method for calculating the benefits that arise from conserving biodiversity and nature for generations to come.

Current methods for calculating the values of ecosystem services—such as filtering air or water, pollinating crops or the physical and mental values of a natural space—fall short, says an international research team that includes scientists from Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. So, they devised a new approach that can be used by governments in cost-benefit analyses for public infrastructure projects, in which the loss of animal and plant species and ecosystem services are converted into a current monetary value. This process is designed to make biodiversity loss and the benefits of nature conservation more visible in political decision-making.

Their approach, published in the journal Science in March 2024, takes into consideration the increase in monetary value of nature over time as human income increases, as well as the likely deterioration in biodiversity, making it more of a scarce resource. This contrasts with current methods, which do not consider how the value of ecosystem services changes over time.


As the deterioration in biodiversity continues, nature will increase in monetary value over time, making it more of a scarce resource.

Two factors play a key role in this value adjustment: on the one hand, income will rise and with it the prosperity of the world’s population—by an estimated 2% per year after adjusting for inflation. As incomes go up, people are willing to pay more to conserve nature.

On the other hand, the services provided by ecosystems will become more valuable the scarcer they become. The fact that scarce goods become more expensive is a fundamental principle in economics, and it also applies here. And in view of current developments, unfortunately, the loss of biodiversity is expected to continue.

According to the researchers, the present value of ecosystem services must therefore be set much higher in today’s cost-benefit analyses, to more than 130%, if just including the rise of income. If also considering the impact on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the value adjustment would amount to more than 180%. Accounting for these effects will increase the likelihood of projects that conserve ecosystem services passing a cost-benefit test.


Coral reefs are expected to decline in area and biodiversity as the climate changes, making the remaining reefs much more valuable than they are today—and even more so as household incomes rise. These factors matter when assessing the worth of coral-reef preservation.

The monetary values for the environment that are currently used by policymakers in the appraisal of public investments and regulatory change mean that nature becomes relatively less valuable over time compared to other goods and services. The scientists say that their work shows this is wrong, and they propose an uplift in the values of ecosystems over time. This proposal, they state, could easily be deployed in any government treasury’s analyses that could underpin future budget statements.

For example, look at coral reefs, say the researchers, who advise the German Federal Environment Agency, the United Kingdom’s HM Treasury and the U.S. White House, among other entities. Coral reefs are expected to decline in area and biodiversity as the climate changes, meaning that the remaining reefs will be much more valuable than today, and even more so as household incomes rise.

Animal persistence looks to you

Measures to promote biodiversity in urban settings are most successful when they are not only ecologically sensible but also socially acceptable. It’s necessary, then, to combine knowledge about the way city animals live and people’s acceptance of them. In this way, hopefully, urban planning can simultaneously promote animal welfare in cities and avoid conflicts between humans and wildlife.


The question of worth always boils down to: what do you value most?

Funding that animal welfare is important, as well, not only for them but for us. On a personal level, we as individuals can—and should—be nudged to use our purchasing power to benefit biodiversity and wildlife. On a nationwide level, we can advocate and vote for a greater valuation of wildlife. Governments are under considerable pressure from many sides for additional monies. Ensuring that the protection of ecosystems is appraised in a way that is consistent with other public projects and infrastructure spending is critical. Since political decisions can alleviate biodiversity loss, it is important that governments are able to adequately assess the consequences of their decisions today and in the future.

The question it all comes down to is: what do you value?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,