The conservation of biodiversity critically depends on the value that humans attach to it. Apart from an ecological and economic value, an aesthetic value has often been assigned to biodiversity. However, it is not known whether lay people appreciate the diversity of species and not just certain individual species or nature as a whole. We studied in a series of experiments and field studies people’s perception and appreciation of species diversity. We presented meadow-like arrays of different species richness and evenness but random species composition to lay people and asked them to estimate plant species richness and rank the arrays by attractiveness. The experiments were complemented by two larger-scale field studies using natural meadows. Both in the experiments and the field studies the mean perception of species richness by people increased with true species richness, but was slightly overestimated at low and increasingly underestimated at high diversity levels. Lay people’s aesthetic appreciation of both the experimental grassland arrays and the natural meadows increased with true species richness. Communities
consisting of the same number of species were perceived to be more species-rich and were appreciated more when their evenness was high. Our results demonstrate that plant diversity in itself is attractive to humans. The current reduction of the diversity of grasslands due to intensification of management may thus reduce the attractiveness of regions where grasslands are a dominant feature of the landscape. This could have negative consequences for tourism and may add an economic argument for the conservation of biodiversity in grasslands.