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Cnr, in the study of plants, researchers choose ‘the most beautiful’

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Taller stems and brightly colored flowers. These are the characteristics that most attract the attention of researchers engaged in the study of plants. In short, only ‘the most beautiful’ are chosen in spite of the risks of extinction and ecological problems. This was revealed by a study published in Nature Plants. Researchers from the Water Research Institute of the National Research Council of Verbania (Cnr-Irsa), of the Universities of Turin and Federico II of Naples, of the Museum of Natural Sciences of Berlin and of the Curtin University in Australia, have reached the conclusion that “for the scientists ‘field’ the choice of the species to study could be influenced by aesthetic factors”. A conclusion arrived by analyzing 113 species of the southwestern Alps, mentioned in 280 scientific publications in the last 45 years. According to the team of young researchers, “in the long run” the choice could introduce a distortion in research efforts. “But how to quantify this bias? Pious, the researchers recall, have played a significant role in the evolution of modern science. and their properties continue to be the focus of important research. Martino Adamo, researcher at the Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology of the University of Turin and first author of the study, explains that “in this study we analyzed 280 articles subjected to peer-reviews dedicated to 113 plant species typical of the southwestern Alps, published in the last 45 years. We have discovered that some morphological characteristics, such as taller stems and flowers with clearly visible colors, are among the traits that most attract the attention of researchers “.” We observed – adds Stefano Mammola of Cnr-Irsa – such as plants with flowers blue are much more studied than those with poorly pigmented flowers (green or brown) “and that” also the height of the stem, which in a sense is the ability of a plant to stand out from the others and therefore ‘get noticed’ from the observer, it is an important selection factor. “Mammola adds that” on the contrary, and perhaps paradoxically, the risk of extinction of species and their ecological traits do not affect the probability that a species is studied. “This generates a” bias. aesthetic “in research efforts, the authors argue. And” this bias can have negative impacts as it can steer conservation efforts in favor of more attractive plants, regardless of their ecological importance for the health of the general ecosystem ”, observes the researcher from UniTo Adamo. These results therefore have significant implications for making scientific research more objective and, in a broad sense, for a more equitable prioritization of the species to be protected, warns the Italian researcher. The study intends to provide an opportunity for reasoning. “Our work does not want to be a criticism of the research carried out by colleagues, but rather a food for thought” assures the researcher CnrIrsa Mammola. “Although the choices are sometimes guided by the communicability of the scientific result, it is still important to reflect on our approach to conservation and make it as fair and objective as possible: even a brownish flower contributes to the correct functioning of the ecosystem, and is therefore important. study it and protect it “. (by Andreana d’Aquino)

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