Due to an intense level of interest from the media, the public, conservation NGOs, and policymakers, the scientific study of charismatic megafauna is perceived by some researchers as associated with glory-seeking or other less-than-noble behavior. However, the study of elasmobranchs has led to important discoveries in the fields of physiology, evolution, neurobiology, behavior, and ecology that would not have been possible with other study systems. These animals are ecologically and economically important, and many species are of great conservation concern. Additionally, public interest in these animals can be leveraged for science and conservation education and outreach efforts, and they can be used as “flagship species” for conservation and management policy. In this paper, we discuss the value of taxon-focused scientific research using examples from the work of American Elasmobranch Society scientists. We argue for the importance of taxon-based societies, such as the American Elasmobranch Society (AES), and the societies it meets jointly with, including the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, the Society for the Study of Reptiles and Amphibians, and the Herpetologists' League. Together these four societies make up the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (JMIH). While this paper will focus on AES, the general principles apply broadly to all members of JMIH as well as other taxon-based societies, and speak to their importance amongst a backdrop of broadly discipline-based research societies.
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Vol. 2014 • No. 4