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Taxonomic Chauvinism Revisited: Insight from Parental Care Research
Published: Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Author: Zachary R. Stahlschmidt

by Zachary R. Stahlschmidt

Parental care (any non-genetic contribution by a parent that appears likely to increase the fitness of its offspring) is a widespread trait exhibited by a broad range of animal taxa. In addition to influencing the fitness of parent(s) and offspring, parental care may be inextricably involved in other evolutionary processes, such as sexual selection and the evolution of endothermy. Yet, recent work has demonstrated that bias related to taxonomy is prevalent across many biological disciplines, and research in parental care may be similarly burdened. Thus, I used parental care articles published in six leading journals of fundamental behavioral sciences (Animal Behaviour, Behavioral Ecology, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, Ethology, Hormones and Behavior, and Physiology & Behavior) from 2001–2010 (n?=?712) to examine the year-to-year dynamics of two types of bias related to taxonomy across animals: (1) taxonomic bias, which exists when research output is not proportional to the frequency of organisms in nature, and (2) taxonomic citation bias, which is a proxy for the breadth of a given article—specifically, the proportion of articles cited that refer solely to the studied taxon. I demonstrate that research on birds likely represents a disproportionate amount of parental care research and, thus, exhibits taxonomic bias. Parental care research on birds and mammals also refers to a relatively narrow range of taxonomic groups when discussing its context and, thus, exhibits taxonomic citation bias. Further, the levels of taxonomic bias and taxonomic citation bias have not declined over the past decade despite cautionary messages about similar bias in related disciplines— in fact, taxonomic bias may have increased. As in Bonnet et al. (2002), my results should not be interpreted as evidence of an ‘ornithological Mafia’ conspiring to suppress other taxonomic groups. Rather, I generate several rational hypotheses to determine why bias persists and to guide future work.