A recent study published in the journal iScience sheds light on the current imbalance in emoji representation, particularly in the realm of plants, fungi, and microorganisms.
The analysis, conducted by conservation biologists from the University of Milan, revealed that animals, especially vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and bony fish), dominate the current emoji catalogue, constituting 76% of animal emojis.
"While the biodiversity crisis may seem distant from the online world, in our increasingly digitised society, we should not underestimate the potential of emojis to raise awareness and foster appreciation for the diversity of life on Earth," wrote authors Stefano Mammola, Mattia Falaschi, and Gentile Francesco Ficetola.
Despite arthropods, including insects, arachnids, and crustaceans, vastly outnumbering vertebrates in terms of species (1.3 million vs. 85,000), they are proportionally under-represented in emojis.
Flatworms (platyhelminthes) and nematodes are entirely absent from the emoji repertoire, despite collectively comprising over 40,000 species. The researchers note positive strides in emoji diversity, citing the introduction of a 'worm' emoji in 2020 and a red coral emoji in 2021.
The scientists stress that emojis, as widely used digital communication tools, have the potential to raise awareness and foster appreciation for the diverse forms of life on Earth. To ensure the equitable representation of the tree of life, the researchers advocate for diverse and inclusive emoji sets, emphasising their crucial role in digital communication.
As the study highlights the current limitations in emoji representation, the call for more inclusive nature emojis aims to align digital communication with the rich tapestry of biodiversity. This initiative could contribute to broader efforts in biodiversity conservation and awareness.