What makes reptiles highly researchable?

Submitted by editor on 3 March 2023. Get the paper!
Fig 1. The green turtle (Chelonia mydas) is the most researched reptile species on the planet, with 2,130 research papers published about it. Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chelonia_mydas,_atol%C3%B3n_de_Palmira.jpg.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Selena Gomez, and Dwayne Johnson are some of the biggest digital influencers today. In addition to their popularity, these individuals likely share some common attributes that have led them to accumulate so many followers. For example, we could say they are all artists, with musical talent, or working as football players and content creators. If we look at the biodiversity of the planet, we will also find species that are more popular than others. But how can we quantify popularity in this case? We can, for instance, investigate the number of research papers per species. Knowing species well is essential for developing effective conservation strategies, something vital in the current biodiversity crisis where thousands of species face the risk of extinction due to human-related environmental change.

In a recent paper in Ecography, we investigated why some species are more researched and better known than others. We used scientometric techniques to measure the number of research papers available for reptile species worldwide. This metric of species 'scientific popularity' was then contrasted with biological and socioeconomic data to elucidate potential determinants of research effort.

Overall, we counted almost 90 000 research papers on reptile species globally. The top 10 most researched species accumulated 15% of all scientific articles found. The top three most researched species were all chelonians: the green turtle (Chelonia mydas, with 2130 articles), the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta, 2058 articles), and the red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta, with 1709 articles). For 90% of the world's reptile species, we can count on our fingers the number of scientific articles related to them, meaning they are species that have a maximum of 10 published research papers. In fact, for almost 40% of all reptile species, our knowledge is so restricted that no publications have been identified in the last decades.

Fig 2. The green anole (Anolis carolinensis), native to the United States, is among the most researched reptile species in the world, with 998 research papers. Photo. (https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archivo:Anolis_carolinensis_extended_dewlap.jpg).

Turtles, crocodiles, pythons and vipers (lanceheads and rattlesnakes) received more attention than other groups of reptiles, especially those living underground or in the canopy. Temperate species are also studied more than tropical ones, despite the majority of species being found in the tropics. In other words, we know little about species in regions with greater biodiversity. Larger reptiles near research institutions also showed more papers than their respective counterparts. Interestingly, endangered species were more studied, highlighting the importance of “red lists” to boost our knowledge on imperiled organisms.

The world is losing many different kinds of plants and animals, with species becoming extinct even before we even know they existed. Consequently, we will never discover the potential (e.g. biotechnological and pharmacological) associated with these species. Investigating the scientometrics of biodiversity knowledge is a promising way to unveil how humanity has directed its research efforts and attention. This type of study can not only help identify gaps in our knowledge of biodiversity, but it can also provide guidance for establishing new research programs aimed at uncovering the mysteries of our planet's diversity.


Prof. Mario R. Moura

Department of Animal Biology

Universidade Estadual de Campinas


Jhonny J. M. Guedes

Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ecologia e Evolução

Universidade Federal de Goiás


Prof. José Alexandre F. Diniz Filho

Department of Ecology

Universidade Federal de Goiás