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April 2014: Many animals in need of conservation attention are the least studied
due to human bias, reveals new research by scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
Their results found that large, wide-ranging carnivores that exclusively eat meat, such as wolves, are more likely to be studied
than smaller carnivores with varied diets, even though these are often the more threatened.
The study looked at the number of research papers published between 1900 and 2010
for each of the 286 carnivore species. The authors then analyzed the papers to see
if research effort was linked to the characteristics or to the extinction risk of a species.
By analyzing more than 16,500 papers they found that conservation status was not
a significant driver of research effort, despite significant improvements in the tools
used by conservationists to identify species most at risk of extinction.
The cat-like Madagascan fossa, for instance, belongs to one of the most threatened carnivore groups,
the Herpestidae, but this group was the second least studied. Dogs proved to be the most studied group,
with the red fox the subject of the largest number of published papers.
"Out of the top 20 most studied species, most are larger species with large geographic ranges,
like black bear and brown bear.
Dr Zoe Brooke, lead author of the study, said: “There also is a strong geographic bias,
with 16 residing in North America and Europe. The exceptions include large charismatic species like lions,
tigers and cheetah.”
Despite only accounting for 13 per cent of the species in the study, marine mammals such as the sea otter
and the walrus, were the focus of 37 per cent of published research.
The authors suggest that research effort may lean towards carnivores that regularly come into contact with humans,
particularly when interaction results in human-wildlife conflict. However, they also note that many of the 28 species with zero published papers were from areas
where there may be a lack of skill or funding for research.
Co-author Dr Chris Carbone said: “We have identified serious gaps in our knowledge that
could lead to greater biodiversity loss if we continue to be ruled by our hearts, not our heads.
“Technological advancements mean we no longer have the excuse of not studying species
in remote locations. We hope our analysis technique can be applied to other animal groups –
and even other areas of science – to ensure research is driven by evidence
and continues to plug our knowledge gaps.”
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