Do people value rare species more than common ones? This is an important question for conservation because not only does valuation justify public funds being spent conserving rare species, but valuation can have negative implications as well. In what is called the ‘anthropogenic Allee effect’, increased valuation can increase species desirability –thus enhancing monetary value for exotic pets, building ecotourism lodges in sensitive habitats, or exotic tasty dishes (ah, The Freshman). In what is probably the most unique approach to assessing whether behavior is affected by the notion of species rarity, Angula and Courchamp, at the Université Paris Sud, used a web-based slideshow measure the amount of time people would wait to see a slideshow of rare versus common species.
Cleverly, they created a French website where visitors could select to view either a slideshow of common or rare species (and the links randomly changed positions on the site). The trick was that a download status bar appears and freezes near the end, and so Angula and Courchamp were able to measure how many visitors selected the rare species show and how long they waited until they gave up. Visitors were much more likely to select the rare species and to wait longer to see them.
I think that this study is extremely neat for two reasons. First it offers a novel way to quantify valuation, and second, it shows how the internet can be used to assess conservation issues in an efficient low-cost way.
Now will they please just show us the pictures of the cute, endangered species!
Angulo, E., & Courchamp, F. (2009). Rare Species Are Valued Big Time PLoS ONE, 4 (4) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005215