Original Research

Human Ecology

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 361-369

First online:

Things We Like: Human Preferences among Similar Organisms and Implications for Conservation

  • David L. StokesAffiliated withDepartment of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington, Bothell Email author 

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Human preferences will increasingly determine many species’ prospects for survival. However, aside from a small number of survey-based studies of preference among disparate taxa, human species preferences have received little attention. I determined human aesthetic preferences among a relatively homogenous group, the penguins, from representation in all recently published, comprehensive, popular books of photographs of penguins (n = 4 books; 304 photographs). Representation of visually distinguishable types of penguins, measured by total photograph area, was highly skewed and rankings were highly concordant across books, suggesting large and commonly held differences in aesthetic appeal. Multiple regression analysis indicated that amount of warm color was the only significant determinant of representation, and warm color was highly correlated (r 2 = 0.96) with mean representation of the penguin types. Body size and neotenic form, traits found to influence human preferences among other animals, were not significant, suggesting that the bases of human species preferences differ by species type. The results of this study indicate that human aesthetic preferences discriminate finely among species and may be based on minor features. Conservationists must be vigilant to the potential for aesthetic responses to influence conservation efforts.

Key words

Human biodiversity preferences aesthetics of biodiversity biodiversity conservation penguins color