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Carnivorous Mammal Research Biased Toward Larger, Broad-Ranging Animals

Apr 03, 2014 04:13 PM EDT
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Among the hundreds of carnivorous mammals that roam the Earth, the ones that are studied most tend to have broader geographical ranges and broader diets, according to a new study.

Writing in the journal PLOS One, a team of scientists from the Zoological Society of London contends that the way scientists select which species to study may bias their understanding of a very diverse group of animals.

Using data gathered from 16,500 published papers on the Carnivoria order, the scientists compiled information of the species' life history and ecological traits.

The analysis revealed that some of the most least studied carnivores are species that are predicted to become increasingly threatened.

"Better-studied species tended to be large-bodied and have a large geographic range, but omnivores were less-studied overall," the researchers said in a statement. "The IUCN threat status did not show a strong relationship with research effort, which suggests that the actual conservation needs of individual species are not major drivers of research interest."

Instead, the authors suggest that the complexities of the human planning and decision-making process ends up swaying the available data in the direction of larger, broad-ranged carnivores, while omitting their smaller and less mobile counterparts.

"Out of the top 20 most studied species, most are larger species with large geographic ranges, like black bear and brown bear," said researcher Zoe Brooke of the Zoological Society of London. "There also is a strong geographic bias, with 16 residing in North America and Europe -- the exceptions include large charismatic species like lions, tigers and cheetah."

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