A study conducted by Australian researchers found that scientific journals discourage the study of ‘ugly’ rodents and bats. This group of animals, while often endangered and critical to local ecosystems, remains grossly understudied.
The scientists reviewed the published literature for each of Australia’s 331 mammal species and found that they can generally be split into three categories: the good, the bad and the ugly. The good are marsupials and monotremes (mammals which lay eggs), and most studies focus on their physiology and anatomy. The bad are introduced mammals, such as foxes, cats and rabbits, and most studies focus on their environmental impact and population control. Then, there’s the ugly – mostly native rodents and bats with studies focusing on … nothing, because there’s not much literature on them.
“The majority of studies on monotremes and marsupials (the ‘good’) are directed towards their physiology and anatomy, with a smaller ecological focus,” the study writes. “By contrast, introduced eutherians (the ‘bad’) have attracted greater attention in terms of ecological research, with greater emphasis on methods and technique studies for population control. Despite making up 45% of the 331 species studied, native rodents and bats (the ‘ugly’) have attracted disproportionately little study.”
According to researchers, one of the main reasons why this category is so understudies is their cryptic nature – they’re small and difficult to spot and monitor. However, there’s also another factor: with limited funding and resources, most scientists choose to focus on charismatic species, largely ignoring the ‘ugly’ category. Scientific journals are also more likely to reject such studies for being “parochial and of limited interest”.
“Current global and national conservation funding largely overlooks these non-charismatic species, and yet these may arguably be most in need of research effort,” said Professor Trish Fleming, a wildlife biologist at Murdoch University in WA, who co-authored the paper with Dr Bill Bateman from Curtin University.
Fleming asks for more funding for the ignored species and political backing to help conservation agencies protect species. She says citizen science programs could help increase research capacity.