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Racism? “Ugly” Reef Fishes “Threatened” Because Of Their Look

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What’s the link between beauty and animal conservation? New research reveals.

A new study published today in the journal PLOS Biology by Nicolas Mouquet of the University of Montpellier, France, and colleagues, says that the reef species that people think most beautiful are the least important for conservation.

In an online survey, the researchers asked 13,000 people to score the aesthetic attractiveness of 481 pictures of ray-finned reef fishes, and then used the results to train a convolutional neural network.

They then utilized the trained neural network to predict the outcomes of another 4,400 photos featuring 2,417 of the most commonly found reef fish species.

They discovered that bright, colorful fish species with rounder bodies were evaluated as the most beautiful when the public’s assessments were combined with the neural network’s predictions.

The species that were deemed more beautiful, on the other hand, tended to be less unique in terms of ecological features and evolutionary history. Furthermore, species classified as “Threatened” on the IUCN Red List or whose conservation status has not yet been determined had lower aesthetic value than those classified as “Least Concern.”

Unattractive species drew more commercial interest, however, aesthetic value had little bearing on the importance of a species in subsistence fisheries.

According to the authors, our innate preferences for shape and color are most likely a result of how the human brain processes colors and patterns, but mismatches between aesthetic value, ecological function, and extinction vulnerability may mean that the species most in need of public support are the ones least likely to get it.

Unattractive fishes are vital for the operation of the entire reef because of their ecological and evolutionary uniqueness, and their extinction could have a disproportionate influence on these high-biodiversity ecosystems.

“Our study provides, for the first time, the aesthetic value of 2,417 reef fish species,” says Mouquet.

The findings of the study revealed, “that less beautiful fishes are the most ecologically and evolutionary distinct species and those recognized as threatened”.

Further study findings highlight “likely important mismatches between potential public support for conservation and the species most in need of this support”.

Image Credit: Getty

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