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Research published today in the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) journal Geo: Geography and Environment suggests significant links between bird diversity and human mental health.

The study combined data estimating bird diversity across the US state of Michigan with anxiety and mood disorder hospitalisation records, assessing their relationship over an 11-year period. Findings reveal that lower bird diversity is a significant predictor of higher numbers of hospitalisations for anxiety and mood disorders, furthering our understanding of the complex relationship between the mental health and biodiversity crises.

Previous research has shown that over 50% of the population in middle and high-income countries will suffer from at least one mental health disorder, primarily anxiety and mood disorders1. Whilst levels of income and the health and density of vegetation are also strong predictors of anxiety and mood disorder hospitalisations, the study published today reveals that bird species diversity exhibits an independent and significant association with mental health, providing evidence that we need to look beyond simply integrating ‘green spaces’ in urban planning.

Lead author of the paper, Dr Rachel Buxton, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Environmental and Interdisciplinary Sciences, Carleton University, comments, “Often we consider nature as representing the amount of green space near homes or the distance to the nearest park, but the link between species diversity and health is underexplored. Our study shows that if species diversity can affect mental health at the severe end of the spectrum (hospitalisations), it is possible that the decline in biodiversity across the globe may be intricately connected with our anxiety and mood on a day-to-day basis.

“It is critical we take a holistic approach to our mental health and nature. Investing in nature should not be viewed as a luxury, but a necessity, and evaluated in the context of the support for wellbeing it offers individuals and communities living in urban or nature-scarce environments. Restoring and conserving diverse bird communities could be one avenue to improving mental health in cities and factored into urban restoration projects and public health policies.”

This study is a small step towards understanding the complex integration of nature and human wellbeing and the specifics of biodiversity need to be researched more. Dr Buxton’s team recommend further studies are taken to examine which particular aspects of nonhuman nature have the greatest impact on mood disorders, in order to inform future urban greening efforts.


  1. Trautmann S, Rehm J, Wittchen H-U. The economic costs of mental disorders: Do our societies react appropriately to the burden of mental disorders? EMBO Rep. 2016;17(9):1245-9.


Notes to editor

  • For further media enquiries please contact the Society’s Press Officer, Róisín Tarrant, on +44 (0)77 1478 3126 or

  • The paper ‘Exploring the relationship between bird diversity and anxiety and mood disorder hospitalisation rates’ will be published online here on 7 August 2023.

  • An advance version of the paper, can be downloaded here. Please cite this article as: Buxton, R.T., Pearson, A.L., Lin, H.-Y., Sanciangco, J.C. & Bennett, J.R. (2023) Exploring the relationship between bird diversity and anxiety and mood disorder hospitalisation rates. Geo: Geography and Environment, 10, e127. Available from:

  • Geo: Geography and Environment is a fully open access international journal publishing original articles from across the spectrum of geography and environment research. It currently has three topical themes developed by leading scholars: Decolonising Climate Geography; Climate Change, AI and Sustainability; and Geographies of Energy Futures. More information can be found here.

  • The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) is the learned society and professional body for geography. Formed in 1830, our Royal Charter of 1859 is for 'the advancement of geographical science'. Today, we deliver this objective through developing, supporting and promoting geographical research, expeditions and fieldwork, education, public engagement, and geography input to policy. We aim to foster an understanding and informed enjoyment of our world. We hold the world's largest private geographical collection and provide public access to it. We have a thriving Fellowship and Membership and offer the professional accreditation 'Chartered Geographer’.

  • Carleton University was founded in 1942 to serve the community and educate returning World War II veterans. In the years since, Carleton has grown into one of the most resourceful and productive hubs of learning and growth. Consistently ranked as one of the best comprehensive universities in the country, Carleton is a research-intensive school with exciting programs and a strong community of more than 35,000 staff, faculty, and students.