If a plant is to be thoroughly researched, it should yield beautiful flowers, preferably blue. In contrast, neither rare nor threatened species are particularly popular with experts. This is the result of a working group led by Martino Adamo from the University of Turin, based on an analysis of 280 publications from plant research in the southwestern Alps. As the team reports in “Nature Plants”Plants with colored flowers are disproportionately represented compared to green or brown species. This suggests that plant experts are often guided by aesthetic considerations when choosing the topic of their research. This effect is also known in animals.
As a case study for their investigation, Adamo and his team chose the southwestern Alps, a well-researched region with high biodiversity. According to their own statements, this limitation enabled them to better control the disruptive factors. The team compared the properties of 113 plants, including color, size, habitat, and abundance, the number of papers published on them. Results: The most important selection factor seems to be presence.
It mainly affects the color of flowers. According to the analysis, species of white and red flowers are represented twice in the literature as one would expect, more than three times as many as blue flowers. On the other hand, traits that would be expected to be of greater scientific importance – for example special habitat or an entry in the red list of endangered species – played no role.
This preference for charismatic species is a problem that has been repeatedly described in biological research. Many experts fear that in this way the less beautiful creatures will end up in the blind spot of protection of the species; A study by Adamo’s team should help make plant research more balanced. The team has yet to find a good solution on how to fix the professional world of their longing for the blue flower.
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