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Mission: to photograph and feature a wide variety of plants and flowers from around the world – not merely the tall and the beautiful – to promote conservation and preservation. Martina Nicolls

Botanists are more likely to study prettier plants, says 2021 research

Botanists are more likely to study prettier and taller plants, says research documented in the New Scientist magazine in May 2021.

Martino Adamo and his colleagues at the University of Turin in Italy conducted an analysis of research papers over the past 45 years. They studied 280 scientific papers published between 1975 and 2020 that mentioned one or more of 113 small flowering plant species of the south-western Alps in Europe.

Using a statistical model, they found that the physical appearance of a plant was the most important factor in explaining why botanists chose the plant for their research. They found that appearance – colour, flower size, and stem height – beats ecological importance, rarity, and abundance in the decision to study a plant.

Plants with blue flowers received the most attention. “Blue plants, such as Gentiana ligustica, in particular, were really well studied,” says Adamo. 

Plants with white and red flowers were also significantly more researched than plants with brown and green flowers, which stand out the least from their background.

“Looking at our model, plants taller than the average height in their habitat are more likely to be studied as well,” says Adamo. Adamo suggests that taller plants may have been more frequently studied because they are more accessible to researchers and easily stand out.

This may introduce a bias to botanical studies, because researchers are more likely to examine one type of plant than another, says Diego Fontaneto at Italy’s National Research Council.

Adamo and his research team hope to use these findings to inform better policies and conservation efforts aimed at avoiding the neglect of particular plants in the Alps. Although the analysis was only done on Alpine flora, the researchers are interested in investigating whether this pattern is seen in other ecosystems across the world.

Journal reference: Nature PlantsDOI: 10.1038/s41477-021-00912-2

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