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Tweeting for their lives How popular are different threatened species on Twitter?

Popularity and public interest can often be the difference between extinction and recovery for endangered species.

While there is plenty of research about the popularity of threatened species, little information exists about their popularity on social media.

Generally, uncharismatic species receive less conservation support, potentially impacting their long-term survival.

To no surprise, charismatic mammals like Pandas, and other animals like birds receive the most public support, while insects and frogs receive the least.

Left: Endangered Fleay's Barred frog, restricted to small pockets of rainforest in northern NSW. (Photo: Wikimedia).

Twitter is widely used by many environmental NGOs, academics, scientific journals and organisations, the general public, and journalists. So we thought an understanding of what makes a threatened species popular on Twitter has important implications for conservation.

We decided to measure the level of public attention on Twitter for threatened fauna listed under the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Australia has an alarmingly high rate of extinction and a lack of public support is considered to have contributed to the two recent extinctions of the Christmas Island Forest Skink and the Bramble Cay Melomys.

Left: Christmas Island Forest Skink. Right: Bramble Cay Melomys (Photo - Geographical Magazine)

What we found

We found that most species (57%) had fewer than 20 tweets including their name and 15% of species hadn’t been tweeted about, ever! Of these, 35% were invertebrates.

Only 6% of species had more than 1000 tweets, with mammals representing 39% of these.

Helping other endangered species get tweets!

Understanding the commonalities of five traits shared by popular threatened species on Twitter could be useful to inform conservation education and marketing campaigns aiming to raise the profile of less popular threatened species.

5 potential 'drivers of popularity' on Twitter

  1. Species have a dedicated ‘species champion’ which includes individual researchers, as well as major conservation organisations.
  2. Species have cultural or commercial affiliations as a quintessential Australian animal.
  3. Species that ‘trend’ online due to extraordinary physical characteristics (for example the ‘smiling’ quokka).
  4. Species are commonly kept as pets or hunted (for example popular aviary pets).
  5. Lazarus species: rediscovered species that were previously thought to be extinct.

We do not claim this is a comprehensive analysis of people’s preferences towards Australian threatened species. Rather, we hope to raise awareness of what interest threatened species receive on social media, and to highlight ways to increase the profile of threatened species on social media.

Read the paper in Journal for Nature Conservation.

Media: CEED Communicaitons, Casey Fung, c.fung@uq.edu.au, +614 433 638 643.

Credits:

Created with images by Wim Bollen - "With A Twist" • Natalie Su - "untitled image"

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