Mammalian species that are considered "ugly" or non-charismatic are being overlooked by research, scientists say. Little interest, recognition and, on a more practical level, funding is being directed towards animals such as the fruit bats or the tree rats.
Published in the Mammal Review, the study is actually a review of different publications regarding 331 Australian terrestrial mammals. The researchers divided them into three categories, according to different factors.
The "good" category included well-known marsupial native species such as koalas or kangaroos. The "bad" category was so-called because it regrouped invasive species such as rabbits or foxes. Finally, the "ugly" category referred to bats and rodents, which made up 45% of the 331 species.
Studies for conservation efforts
The researchers show that studies dealing with "good" mammals revolved mostly around their anatomy and their physiology, while the"bad" mammals were often the object of ecological research or of scientific efforts to introduce sustainable population control. The "ugly" however attracted little scientific interest.
"We know so little about the biology of many of these species. For many, we have catalogued their existence through genetics or taxonomic studies, but when it comes to understanding what they eat, their habitat needs, or how we could improve their chances of survival, we are very much still in the dark," says lead author Patricia Fleming.
Vulnerable to extinction
The problem is that many of these species are at risk of extinction. The grey-headed flying fox, one of Australia's best-known fruit bats is for instance listed as "vulnerable" on the IUCN red list of threatened species.
Though rats and bats are "non-charismatic", they are thus very much in need of research, so that scientists can get the tools they need to help the animals survive. And even though they might be "ugly", they play an important role within the Australian fauna and flora.
"These smaller animals make up an important part of functioning ecosystems, a role that needs greater recognition through funding and research effort", concludes Patricia Fleming.