The new Noah’s Ark: beautiful and useful species only. Part 2: The chosen species.

Small, E. (2012). "The new Noah’s Ark: beautiful and useful species only. Part 2: The chosen species.", Biodiversity, 13(1), pp. 37-53. doi : 10.1080/14888386.2012.659443  Access to full text

Abstract

For most species, conservation efforts are being determined by qualities that humans admire or dislike, including economic importance. The most universally admired physical characteristic is size: huge creatures elicit great respect, whereas the majority of species, which are small, tend to be ignored. Glamorous appearance is critical for sympathetic attention, and there are numerous features such as colour and impressive architecture that contribute to what makes a species attractive. However, bizarre or ferocious appearance, if entertaining, can also be a key to conservation. We are hard-wired to admire many of the larger mammals, provided that they have features reminiscent of health and intelligence in humans, or are ‘cute and cuddly’ like human babies. Most bird species also possess many admirable traits. However, most animals distantly related to humans, particularly invertebrates, usually have few characteristics considered attractive. The majority of the world's threatened species are insects, but except for butterflies and bees, most are usually perceived very negatively. Unfortunately, numerous animal groups in dire need of conservation, such as frogs and snakes, are decidedly handicapped by both their appearance and behaviour. The majority of species are undiscovered, and so are hardly in a position to compete for conservation attention. While there are advantages to conservation focussed on particular species, preservation of diverse habitats is preferable in order to benefit the planet's life-sustaining ecosystems and their constituent biodiversity, including humans.