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Biologists Seek Emojis to Better Reflect Life on Earth

There are currently 3,782 emojis, but a team of biologists has found its representation of the tree of life could be greatly improved.

Collection of face emojis

Scientists from Italy’s National Research Council have taken the current animals and nature emojis and mapped them on the phylogenic tree of life that links all organisms. They found that plants, fungi, invertebrates and microorganisms were all poorly covered in cute digital form.

They contend that a lack of emoji visibility makes it harder to have conservation efforts recognized in the real world. "While the biodiversity crisis may seem distant from the online world, in our increasingly digitized society, we should not underestimate the potential of emojis to raise awareness and foster appreciation for the diversity of life on Earth," wrote Stefano Mammola, Mattia Falaschi, and Gentile Francesco Ficetola.

The trio has made a plea to the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit organization that has the power to approve or veto proposed emojis, to boost and diversify its nature ranks. Today, there are 92 animals, 16 plants, one fungus and one microorganism.

"Currently available emojis encompass a broad range of animal species, while plants, fungi, and microorganisms are under-represented," the researchers write. "Such strong taxonomic bias is in line with current societal awareness of biodiversity, which tends to prioritize animals over other taxa.”

While it may seem trivial, the biologists make a very good point: the biases towards ‘poster’ animals don't cover a broad enough spectrum. The scientists argue that "emojifying biodiversity communication" will allow users of digital platforms "to discuss a range of biodiversity-related topics and sentiments more effectively, beyond the icons depicting iconic species."

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