Beautiful reef fish are the least in need of protection

(ORDO NEWS) — To what extent are aesthetic ideas of man and nature protection related? It turned out to be diametrically opposite: those fish that people find more beautiful are the least likely to end up on the lists of threatened species, while the “ugly” ones are much less fortunate.

French scientists decided to find out how a person’s aesthetic ideas about beautiful and ugly are connected with the ecological status of about half a thousand species of tropical fish.

They interviewed 13,000 people who were asked to rate the visual appeal of 481 species of reef fish in online questionnaires.

The obtained data was used to train an ultra-precise neural network. She then further assessed 4,400 more photographs of 2,417 species of the most famous tropical fish.

By combining data from an online survey and a neural network, the researchers found that people found brightly colored fish with round and symmetrical bodies to be the most attractive.

Most of these “beauties” are species that cause the least concern , but among the “freaks” there are many endangered species.

Scientists have explained the patterns of fish attractiveness by the activation of neurons in our brain: in particular, they have linked the aesthetic appeal of bright, symmetrical and contrastingly colored fish with the theory that we find beautiful stimuli that are easier for our brains to process.

The bright spots of butterfly fish and the contrasting colors of angel fish all made it easier for the participants in the experiment to visually remember the animal, which automatically made it more attractive in their eyes.

Unfortunately, not all fish that live in tropical seas have shapes and colors that are so pleasing to our eyes: if, say, butterfly fish almost without exception were among the “beauties”, then plainly colored trachinots and croakers with their elongated body shape were recorded among the “freaks”.

At the same time, it is noteworthy that the economic value of “beautiful” fish is relatively small and is limited mainly by the tourist and aquarium business, while among the “ugly” fish there are a lot of valuable commercial species.

Beautiful reef fish are the least in need of protection 2
Scorpion fish such as this bluemouthed perch have been classified as “freak”

Taken together, these results demonstrate that aesthetic judgments of the world around us based on how our brains function can lead to strong biases towards animals.

Since our emotional perception of nature is one of the main factors of interest in it, aesthetic bias can influence decisions in the field of research and conservation of reef fish.

A similar “aesthetic bias” has already been identified for Australian mammals, in which the least attractive species (bats and rodents) are the least likely to become objects of study.

Reef fish have a similar situation: the “ugly” ones are less likely to become objects of environmental interest, they are not so intensively protected by conservation organizations, although many of them need to be protected much more than the “beauties”.

In other words, innocent animals pay for their own unattractiveness from a human point of view, and for some species, “ugliness” may become extinction in the near future.


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