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Ugly Australian mammals attract little scientific interest, study finds

Australian mammals deemed 'ugly' have attracted little research effort and funding, resulting in poor conservation, a West Australian study has found.

In a study published in the Mammal Review journal, researchers found despite ugly animals making up 45 per cent of native fauna, they received minimal scientific attention.

Literature on 331 Australian mammal species was reviewed and then grouped into three categories - the 'good', which includes iconic species such as kangaroos, echidnas, koalas; the 'bad', which includes invasive species like rabbits, cats and foxes and the 'ugly', which includes species such as bats and rodents.

Associate Professor Trish Fleming from Murdoch University said it was difficult to gain a scientific understanding of ugly mammals.

"They mostly come out at night and [are] small so they aren't as obvious, they also aren't considered to drive ecosystems but they are important organisms," she said.

"I'd like to think that we aren't completely driven by charismatic species but funding tends to be directed towards them and funding tends to drive where research efforts are placed."

One such ugly species is the nocturnal microbat, with gargoyle-like faces, large ears, very small eyes and flanges on their faces. They produce loud, high-pitched squeaks.
More monitoring of ugly mammals needed: researcher

Co-author Bill Bateman from Curtin University said there needed to be long-term monitoring and basic research into aesthetically challenged species.

"For the ugly animals, the small bats and rodents, it's very difficult for people to understand how important they are," Dr Bateman said.

"But they are very important seed dispersers, pollinates and sources of food for multiple other species."

As a result, there was a huge knowledge gap in native fauna and ecosystem management, he said.

"Since European settlement we have lost about 20 species of mammals, we have about another 20 odd in grave danger of extinction," Dr Bateman said.

"I think it would be tragic if we ended up causing the extinction of even more without even knowing anything about them."

The study also found researchers were discouraged from investigating some of the more obscure species because resulting paper submissions were likely to be turned away by the editorial boards of the highest impact international journals for being "parochial and of limited interest".

"For the majority of species, researchers have been able to do little more than catalogue their existence," Professor Fleming said.

"We need to document observations of their diets, habitat selection, space use and reproduction in order to identify threats and management options."

Professor Fleming and Dr Bateman want improved funding and political backing to help conservation agencies protect species, and they believe citizen science programs could help increase research capacity.

"Within Australia, Federal Government funding is largely directed towards investigating invasive species, and with no global funding to support biodiversity conservation research, Australian mammals face a significant plight," Professor Fleming said.


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BatsRule!: Ugly Australian mammals attract little scientific interest, study finds
Ugly Australian mammals attract little scientific interest, study finds
Ugly Australian mammals attract little scientific interest, study finds
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