Assaf graduated in Biology and Geography with honors at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2003, where he continued to do his MSc in Ecology, studying urban ecology and invasion biology. He then went to France for his PhD thesis, where he studied the interaction between people and biodiversity in the centre of a large metropolis (Paris, France) under the supervision of Laurent Simon from the Sorbonne University and Romain Julliard from the Natural History Museum. He won several awards for his PhD work, including the first European Thesis Prize on Biodiversity. From 2012, he was a postdoctoral research associate working on ecosystem services (Natural History Museum) and systematic conservation planning at the University of Kent (UK).
Despite considerable efforts, the biodiversity crisis is still rapidly and profoundly happening, and the growing worldwide urbanization appears to be one of the major causes driving this crisis. Additionally, although the urban network provides people with numerous socioeconomic benefits, urban lifestyles have detrimental effects on human health and well-being. For instance, in addition to increased exposure to stress, urban dwellers are also growingly disconnected from the natural world.
This is caused by both a loss of opportunities and a loss of willingness to experience nature, that affect people’s health, wellbeing, emotions and attitudes toward nature; this is profoundly concerning because it can in turn affect the importance people assign to the natural world, leading to a deleterious feedback loop. This so-called ‘extinction of experience’ therefore potentially aggravates the biodiversity crisis.
Increasing opportunities can be achieved through the design of more sustainable cities, that mutually benefit people and the environment, but this requires a better understanding of the complex relationship between biodiversity and human well-being, that has been proven to be inconsistent across taxonomic groups, locations and a variety of social factors. Research project (1) thus focuses on identifying specific elements and dose of nature that provide well-being, in both controlled and field settings.
In many cases, simply increasing opportunities to be in contact with nature is not sufficient to encourage people to seek out contact with nature. Enhancing opportunities to use natural places should therefore be achieved in tandem with increasing willingness and orientations. Thus, this requires the identification and implementation of means to foster behaviors that enhance contact with nature. Research project (2) focuses on experimentally testing ways to enhance people’s interactions with biodiversity.