Flashy plants attract more scientists

Scientists and gardeners seem unable to resist the charms of a blazing flower or a towering stem. A new study has found that botanists’ research leans inexorably toward showy plants, as duller, duller and shorter ones are often left behind, even though they are in danger.

The analysis, published in Natural plants, reviewed 280 studies conducted from 1975 to 2020 on 113 plant species in the southwestern Alps, a major biodiversity hotspot. The researchers collected data on the morphology of the plants (characteristics such as size and color), as well as their ecology and rarity. A tally of the number of studies carried out on each plant revealed that the eye-catching ones attract much more attention from scientists.

Plants with blue flowers, ranging from indigo to cyan, have been disproportionately studied even though blue is one of the less common flower colors, says lead author of the study, Martino Adamo, a biologist. at the University of Turin in Italy. Plants with red, pink or white flowers beat those with brown or green flowers, and tall-stemmed plants also stood out, and not just literally.

“Our results do not suggest so much that the researchers are focusing on the prettier plants,” says Adamo, “but rather that the more visible, easy to locate and colorful flowering plants are the ones that receive the most attention.”

The team expected to find more endangered species among the most studied, but this is not the case. This counterintuitive result could have important implications for plant science, the researchers say. A bias in favor of ‘glamorous’ plants could mean “that we may be missing out on some extraordinary and untold stories about how plants grow, evolve and adapt,” says study co-author. Kingsley Dixon, botanist at Curtin University in Australia. “In addition, we may be running out of species that could be rapidly declining to extinction, and we don’t even have basic information on seed banks for conservation. “

Adamo adds: “These results show that our unconscious is probably stronger than expected in the selection of the species model; this is not a tragedy, but something to consider ”when planning future work. The findings echo earlier findings that brightly colored, more charismatic and popular mammals and birds are more often featured in conservation and fundraising efforts, regardless of scarcity.

Kathryn Williams, an environmental psychology researcher at the University of Melbourne, who was not involved in the new study, said the potential consequences of such biases “are important for plant conservation and decision making. environment more broadly. The availability of species data and the strength of the evidence base, “she adds,” will play a role as difficult decisions are made about where efforts should be directed. conservation and funding ”.

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