Australia's "Ugly" Animals Attract Less Scientific Attention


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

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274 Australia's "Ugly" Animals Attract Less Scientific Attention
Ghost bat (Macroderma gigas), not known for its handsome looks? S J Bennett/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others in the eyes of scientists, according to a new study. It claims that Australia’s “ugly” and uncharismatic creatures aren’t getting the research and attention they deserve because crowd-pleasing animals are stealing the limelight.

The research, recently published in the journal Mammal Review, looked at 14,248 academic papers to find the different levels of coverage 331 of Australia’s mammals received in scientific research.


The study divided animals up into “the good, the bad and the ugly” and then used statistical methods to work out how much academic research each group had attracted. Native monotremes and marsupials (such as platypuses, kangaroos and koalas) were classed as the “good,” introduced eutherians (introduced and invasive species like rabbits and foxes) as the “bad,” and native eutherians (such as rodents and bats) as the “ugly”.

Despite making up 45 percent of the 331 species studied, “the ugly” native rodents and bats “attracted disproportionately little study,” the researchers wrote, making them the most overlooked. On the flip side, the wonderfully weird "good" marsupials and monotremes received 77 percent of research over the period.

Although perhaps not the prettiest of creatures, the "charismatic" platypus often steals the headlines, research funding, and attention. worldswildlifewonders/shutterstock

Some of this may be to do with well-intentioned interest, the study says. For example, many of Australia’s marsupials and monotremes are rare and have extremely unique biological attributes – just think of the platypus. However, the researchers believe there’s something more sinister going on. They suggested that research tends to “follow the money” and public interest, as opposed to the animal’s conservation status or the breadth of knowledge about it.


“Research funding goes on big animals which are iconic and attract people's attention because they are cute and charismatic. It's very hard to make a tourist attraction of a rodent,” Professor Patricia Fleming, one of the paper’s authors, told Reuters.

The researchers concluded by saying that these biases of journal’s editorial boards, conservation groups, and the general public could be having a real effect on the survival of some species.

“Current global and national conservation funding largely overlooks these species, and yet these may arguably be most in need of research effort,” Fleming said in a statement.

“For the majority of species, researchers have been able to do little more than catalogue their existence.


“Within Australia, Federal Government funding is largely directed towards investigating invasive species, and with no global funding to support biodiversity conservation research, Australian mammals face a significant plight.”

Main image credit: S J Bennett/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)


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