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Proc Biol Sci. 2009 Apr 7;276(1660):1331-7. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.1475. Epub 2009 Jan 13.

Fatal attraction: rare species in the spotlight.

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  • 1Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution, UMR CNRS 8079, Univ Paris Sud, 91405 Orsay Cedex, France.


The exploitation of rare and endangered species can end in the species's extinction because the increased value people associate with rarity increases the economic incentive to exploit the last individuals, creating a positive feedback loop. This recently proposed concept, called the anthropogenic Allee effect (AAE), relies on the assumption that people do value rarity, but this remains to be established. Moreover, it also remains to be determined whether attraction to rarity is a trait confined to a minority of hobbyists (e.g. wildlife collectors, exotic pet owners) or characteristic of the general public. We estimated how much the general public valued rare species compared with common ones, using five different metrics related to personal investment: time spent, physical effort, unpleasantness, economic investment and risk. We surveyed the visitors of a zoo. To see the rare species, the visitors to the zoo invested more time in searching and contemplation, they were ready to expend more physical effort, they tolerated more unpleasant conditions, they were willing to pay more and, finally, they risked more to obtain (steal) a rare species. Our results provide substantial evidence of how the general public places more value on rare species, compared with common species. This confirms the AAE as an actual process, which in addition concerns a large part of the population. This has important consequences for the conservation of species that are rare now, or that could become so in the future.

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