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The aesthetic value of reef fishes is globally mismatched to their conservation priorities


Langlois, J and Guilhaumon, F and Baletaud, F and Casajus, N and De Almeida Braga, C and Fleure, V and Kulbicki, M and Loiseau, N and Mouillot, D and Renoult, JP and Stahl, A and Stuart-Smith, RD and Tribot, A-S and Mouquet, N, The aesthetic value of reef fishes is globally mismatched to their conservation priorities, PLoS Biology, 20, (6) Article e3001640. ISSN 1544-9173 (2022) [Refereed Article]

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© 2022. Langlois et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License, (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

DOI: doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.3001640


Reef fishes are closely connected to many human populations, yet their contributions to society are mostly considered through their economic and ecological values. Cultural and intrinsic values of reef fishes to the public can be critical drivers of conservation investment and success, but remain challenging to quantify. Aesthetic value represents one of the most immediate and direct means by which human societies engage with biodiversity, and can be evaluated from species to ecosystems. Here, we provide the aesthetic value of 2,417 ray-finned reef fish species by combining intensive evaluation of photographs of fishes by humans with predicted values from machine learning. We identified important biases in species’ aesthetic value relating to evolutionary history, ecological traits, and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) threat status. The most beautiful fishes are tightly packed into small parts of both the phylogenetic tree and the ecological trait space. In contrast, the less attractive fishes are the most ecologically and evolutionary distinct species and those recognized as threatened. Our study highlights likely important mismatches between potential public support for conservation and the species most in need of this support. It also provides a pathway for scaling-up our understanding of what are both an important nonmaterial facet of biodiversity and a key component of nature’s contribution to people, which could help better anticipate consequences of species loss and assist in developing appropriate communication strategies.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:reef fishes, aesthetic value, conservation priorities, IUCN status
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology)
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Coastal and estuarine systems and management
Objective Field:Assessment and management of coastal and estuarine ecosystems
UTAS Author:Stuart-Smith, RD (Dr Rick Stuart-Smith)
ID Code:150859
Year Published:2022
Deposited By:Ecology and Biodiversity
Deposited On:2022-07-04
Last Modified:2022-08-04
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