Beaver reintroduction, mental models and emotion

Mental models can be used to map man's intuitive responses to wildlife, in this case, to examine the cognitive and emotional aspects of the attempt to re-introduce beavers in a built-up area.

This PhD research project is currently being conducted by Andrew Earlston Blewett

Eurasian beaver, Castor fiber, is of interest as a charismatic ‘keystone’ species extirpated from very large parts of its historic natural range, including the British mainland. Prior to 2010, beavers were reintroduced into the River Otter catchment in Southwest England, a locality devoid of beaver activity for centuries. Expanding the reintroduction to the point of long term viability implies widespread ecological step-change, requiring human adjustment as landscapes take on wilder beaver-regulated characteristics which may cause unanticipated change locally. Consequently, successful human-beaver coexistence will require sensitive local decision-making responsive to beaver ecology. Recent studies suggest that mental models, represented as intuitive cognitive maps used as a tool to characterise people’s ecological reasoning, can enhance mutual understanding and help reconcile competing stakeholder interests. Conventionally, mental model theory emphasises cognitive processes and under-represents emotional factors, although there is an increasing understanding of emotion in decision-making in general and human-wildlife interactions in particular. This project will examine static and future-projected mental models in a selected stakeholder sample, including a layer showing emotional valence and an analysis of emotional content, demonstrating cognitive-emotion interaction. Representing human-beaver stakeholder mental models this way provides an opportunity to examine possible change scenarios, based on assumptions about increasing beaver activity. The findings will offer an opportunity to discuss the implications of an impactful keystone species reintroduction associated with ecosystem change in a populated area, where sustainable coexistence depends on positive human-wildlife relationships built into the demands of human development.