What Makes a Panther a Panther?

Genetics, Human Perceptions, and the Complexity of Species Categorization

in Nature and Culture
Restricted access

Abstract

Species categorizations can involve both scientific input and conservation questions about what should be preserved and how. We present a case study exploring the social construction of species categories using a real-life example of a cougar subspecies (Puma concolor stanleyana) purposefully introduced into Florida to prevent the functional extinction of a related subspecies of panther (P. c. coryi). Participants in an online sample (n = 500) were asked to make categorization decisions and then reflect on those decisions in an open format. Analysis of coded responses suggest people may experience “species” as both a social and biological construct, and that the question of what species people think an animal belongs to cannot be answered in isolation from questions about how that animal fits into larger social and biological systems.

Contributor Notes

Catherine Macdonald received her PhD in Environmental Science and Policy from the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami in 2017. Her research interests include conservation biology, human-wildlife relationships, and environmental policy. She is currently a lecturer at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and is the Director of Field School, where she serves as a lead scientist and course instructor. Email: Catherine@getintothefield.com

Julia Wester received her PhD in Environmental Science and Policy from the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami in 2016. Her research interests include environmental policy and education, in particular the roles that emotion, norm development, and culture play in environmental decision-making. She is Adjunct Professor of Environmental Policy at the University of Miami's Abess Center, and Director of Program Development at Field School, where she is a lead scientist and course instructor. Email: Julia@getintothefield.com

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