The use of Graph Theory on social media data is a promising approach to identifying emergent properties of the complex physical and cognitive interactions that occur between humans and nature.

This study tested the effectiveness of this approach on a global scale applying it to Instagram posts from fourteen natural areas that were selected to analyse the emergent discourse around them. These areas, known to provide key recreational, educational and heritage values, were investigated with different centrality metrics to test the ability of Graph Theory to identify variability in ecosystem social perceptions and use.

With this approach, the emergent properties of networks of hashtags were explored to characterize visitors’ preferences (e.g., cultural heritage or natural appreciation), activities (e.g., diving or hiking), preferred habitats and species (e.g., forest, beach, penguins), and feelings (e.g., happiness or place identity).

The authors conclude that network analysis on Instagram hashtags allowed delineating the users’ discourse around a natural area, which provides crucial information for effective management of popular natural spaces for people.

De Juan et al. (2022) A graph theory approach to assess nature’s contribution to people at a global scale. Scientific Reports 11:9118.