Natural Resources, School of


First Advisor

Jenny M. Dauer

Date of this Version



Alred, A.R. (2016). Exploration of student biodiversity knowledge and decision-making for a wildlife conservation socioscientific issue. Masters Thesis, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Natural Resource Sciences, Under the Supervision of Professor Jenny M. Dauer. Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2016

Copyright 2016 Ashley R. Alred


Global biodiversity, a foundation for ecosystem function, is diminishing at a rate unprecedented in the last 50 years. Biodiversity loss and ecosystem services deterioration is linked to increased food insecurity, reduced water quality and availability, decreased energy security, higher economic losses and human suffering (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). Consequently, educators should invest in supporting students in their development of ecological understanding and formal decision-making skills so they are equipped with meaningful tools they can use as scientifically literate citizens. To contribute to that mission, this study seeks to explore student 1) comprehension and explanation of biodiversity concepts and 2) decision-making in the face of a conservation issue.

Past research shows that students at all levels of education have difficulty explaining genetic variability, which is a key concept underlying biodiversity, natural selection, and species conservation. In the first part of the study, I explore middle school, high school, and undergraduate student understanding of genetic variability in the context of a captive breeding program for wildlife conservation. Results suggest that several alternative conceptions of genetic variability persist across all grade levels.

In the second part of the study, I explore how undergraduate students make decisions in unstructured and structured decision-making settings when posed with a question relating to mountain lion conservation in Nebraska. Some variables (e.g., value orientations, demographic information, or ecology knowledge) are predictive of students’ management decisions depending on the context of the question. Findings suggest that student decision-making may be more closely linked to students’ value orientations, social identity and conservation knowledge than to students' stated objectives and evaluation criteria related to mountain lion hunting. This study also suggests that a structured decision-making framework can be an effective tool to support students’ examination of value tradeoffs among options for solving complex problems. I provide teaching implications for using these tools in supporting students to make formal, holistic decisions for complex socioscientific issues that transfer to real-world contexts.

Advisor: Jenny M. Dauer