1. Ecology
  2. Genetics and Genomics
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Education and Outreach: March Mammal Madness and the power of narrative in science outreach

  1. Katie Hinde  Is a corresponding author
  2. Carlos Eduardo G Amorim
  3. Alyson F Brokaw
  4. Nicole Burt
  5. Mary C Casillas
  6. Albert Chen
  7. Tara Chestnut
  8. Patrice K Connors
  9. Mauna Dasari
  10. Connor Fox Ditelberg
  11. Jeanne Dietrick
  12. Josh Drew
  13. Lara Durgavich
  14. Brian Easterling
  15. Charon Henning
  16. Anne Hilborn
  17. Elinor K Karlsson
  18. Marc Kissel
  19. Jennifer Kobylecky
  20. Jason Krell
  21. Danielle N Lee
  22. Kate M Lesciotto
  23. Kristi L Lewton
  24. Jessica E Light
  25. Jessica Martin
  26. Asia Murphy
  27. William Nickley
  28. Alejandra Núñez-de la Mora
  29. Olivia Pellicer
  30. Valeria Pellicer
  31. Anali Maughan Perry
  32. Stephanie G Schuttler
  33. Anne C Stone
  34. Brian Tanis
  35. Jesse Weber
  36. Melissa Wilson
  37. Emma Willcocks
  38. Christopher N Anderson
  1. School of Human Evolution and Social Change, the Center for Evolution and Medicine, and the School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, United States
  2. Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, United States
  3. Department of Biology, California State University Northridge, United States
  4. Department of Computational Biology, University of Lausanne, Switzerland
  5. Interdisciplinary Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Department of Biology, Texas A&M University, United States
  6. Department of Human Health and Evolutionary Medicine, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, United States
  7. Illustrator based in Dallas, United States
  8. Milner Centre for Evolution, University of Bath, United Kingdom
  9. Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
  10. National Park Service, United States
  11. Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, United States
  12. Department of Biological Sciences, Colorado Mesa University, United States
  13. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame, United States
  14. Department of Visual & Media Arts, Emerson College, United States
  15. BE Creative LLC, United States
  16. Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, United States
  17. Department of Vertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History, United States
  18. Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, United States
  19. Department of Anthropology, Boston University, United States
  20. Department of Anthropology, Tufts University, United States
  21. Ilustrator based in New England, United States
  22. Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, University of California Riverside, United States
  23. Program in Bioinformatics and Integrative Biology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, United States
  24. Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, United States
  25. Department of Anthropology, Appalachian State University, United States
  26. Department of Anthropology, University of Notre Dame, United States
  27. Aldo Leopold Foundation, United States
  28. Center for Science and Imagination, Arizona State University, United States
  29. Department of Biological Sciences, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, United States
  30. Department of Clinical Anatomy, College of Osteopathic Medicine, Sam Houston State University, United States
  31. Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University, United States
  32. Department of Integrative Anatomical Sciences, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, United States
  33. Department of Mammalogy, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, United States
  34. Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology, Boston University School of Medicine, United States
  35. Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology, the Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections, and the Interdisciplinary Program in Ecology and Evolution, Texas A&M University, United States
  36. School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, United States
  37. Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Pennsylvania State University, United States
  38. Department of Design, The Ohio State University, United States
  39. Instituto de Investigaciones Psicológicas, Universidad Veracruzana, Mexico
  40. Illustrator based in Atlanta, United States
  41. Illustrator based in San Francisco, United States
  42. Engagement & Learning Services, ASU Library, Arizona State University, United States
  43. North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, United States
  44. Human Evolution and Social Change, the Center for Evolution, and Medicine, and the Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University, United States
  45. Department of Biology, Oregon State University-Cascades, United States
  46. Department of Integrative Biology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States
  47. School of Life Sciences and the Center for Evolution and Medicine, Arizona State University, United States
  48. Department of Biology, Brown University, United States
  49. Department of Biological Sciences, Dominican University, United States
Feature Article
Cite this article as: eLife 2021;10:e65066 doi: 10.7554/eLife.65066
11 figures, 1 table, 2 data sets and 8 additional files


The tournament outcome bracket for March Mammal Madness in 2018.

Players initially begin with a “blank” bracket listing just the first-round match-ups and predict sequential match outcomes from their pre-existing knowledge, targeted research, and/or guessing. In the 2018 tournament the four divisions were the ‘Antecessors’ (fossil species that “came before” today’s living mammals, stretching back to the synapsids), ‘Great Adaptations’ (mammals that have exceptional and rare traits), and ‘Urban Jungle’ (mammals that survive, and sometimes thrive, in suburbs and cities). The last division, ‘When the Kat's Away’, was a colloquial allusion to entomologist Chris Anderson and ichthyologist Josh Drew inserting a division of non-mammal combatants for the launch of the tournament when mammalogist Katie Hinde was out of the country. In the Final Four, elephant-relative Amebelodon emerged victorious from the Antecessors and defeated #AltMammal Orinoco crocodile, but was wounded during the encounter. Coyote may have been king of the Urban Jungle but was no match for the pygmy hippopotamus (from Great Adaptations). In the ultimate showdown, Amebelodon’s larger size and weaponry could not overcome his previously-sustained injuries, and he was displaced by surprise 2018 Champion pygmy hippopotamus.

How the combatants featured in March Mammal Madness compare with mammals in general.

Proportion of extant species by order across the mammalian class, stacked according to the species count of the order (with the largest order at the bottom; left), and as combatants in March Mammal Madness (right). Some orders (such as Rodentia) have been under-represented in MMM (reds), some are over-represented (such as Carnivora; blues), and others have been proportionately represented (yellows).

Battles in the advanced rounds of the tournament take place in one of four randomly selected ecosystems.

The four ecosystems or habitats that might be used in the advanced rounds of the tournament (that is, in the four Elite Trait battles, the two Final Roar battles and the Championship battle) are announced during the pre-season, with the ecosystem to be used being revealed in “real time” during the play-by-play narration. Colors are largely indexical to represent predominant hue(s) within the ecosystem. Generally, greens represent forest, blues represent aquatic systems, ochres represent scrublands and sandy deserts, and gray represent urban spaces.

How battles end in March Mammal Madness.

Most battles conclude with a fatal or debilitating encounter between the two combatants (also known as a technical knock out or TKO). Withdrawals from the encounter are also common, as are third-party interventions (Deus ex Machina) that cause one combatant to advance in the tournament.

Artistic representations of some previous tournament combatants.

(A) Cheetah by Charon Henning [http://www.charonhenning.com/]; (B) Tag Team Mutualists, the warthog and the mongoose, by Mary Casillas [marycasillas.wix.com/paintings]; (C) Thylacine by Olivia Pellicer [opellisms.com]; (D) Red squirrel by Charon Henning; (E) Honey badger by Charon Henning; (F) Moose by Valeria Pellicer [http://www.vpellicerart.com/]; (G) Spotted hyena by Charon Henning; (H) Coyote by Mary Cassilas; (I) Andrewsarchus mongoliensis by Charon Henning.

The scientific literature within March Mammal Madness.

(A) During the tournament, hundreds of citations from the scholarly literature are embedded in play-by-play battle tweets from the scientist-narrators and introductory and RIP tweets from the genetics team. (B) The top 25 journals cited in the battle narrations. (C) Most of the papers cited in the battle narrations were published after 2000.

Timeline of development and new elements in March Mammal Madness.

When MMM started in 2013, a single scientist-narrator designed the bracket and reported battle outcomes, but was joined by a team of scientist-narrators in 2014. In 2015, the team expanded to include artists, museum staff, and a dedicated MMMletsgo Twitter account. An academic publisher curated a special MMM collection issue for the first time in 2017. In recent years, we have expanded the teaching materials for K-12 Educators.

MMM promoted National No One Eats Alone Day in 2019.

“Today is National No One Eats Alone Day to promote inclusion and acceptance in schools! https://nooneeatsalone.org Did you know that sometimes Coyotes and Badgers hunt together? Coyote and Badger agree: #NoOneEatsAlone art by @Opellisms #2019MMM #TagTeam” —@Mammals_Suck.

Increasing engagement on social media.

(A) The number of pageviews for MMM blog posts increased over time, as did engagement on twitter (B), as measured by the number of tweets using the MMM hashtag (solid blue line) and the number of timeline deliveries (dashed grey line).

Pageviews of the ASU LibGuide before and during the MMM tournament.

Daily page views for the MMM ASU LibGuide were greatest during the pre-tournament research period, but active traffic was sustained during the tournament as seen for 2017, 2018 and 2019; for each year, day 0 is the day the tournament bracket was released.

Interest in MMM by schools across the United States in 2018.

(A) The proportion of the total public school K-12 student population in six geographic regions (left) and the proportion of MMM students in these regions (right); the two distributions are largely similar, but involvement in MMM is proportionately lower in the South Central region and higher in the Great Lakes region. (B). MMM was under-represented among urban communities and over-represented among suburban communities.


Table 1
Each annual March Mammal Madness tournament featured novel divisions that showcased diverse taxa.
YearDivisionsDescriptionExample taxa
2013CarnivoresMeat-eatersLion, Wolverine
PrimatesPrimate OrderOrangutan, Uakari
Browsers and GrazersHerbivoresTapir, Moose
Hodge PodgeMiscellaneous taxaWombat, Flying Fox
2014Marine MammalsAdapted to marine ecosystemsNarwhal, Harbor Seal
Social MammalsHighly social species (battle as a team)Hyena, African Wild Dogs
The Who in the What NowLesser-known taxaDhole, Saiga
Fossil MammalsExtinct taxa from the fossil recordMastodon, Dire Wolf
2015Mighty MinisSmol boisBumblebee Bat, Tenrec
Critically EndangeredIUCN red list taxaIberian lynx, Tenkile
Sexy BeastsTraits strongly influenced by sexual selectionIrish Elk, Elephant Seal
Mythical MammalsCreatures from cultural myths and folkloreMinotaur, Yeti
2016Cold-adaptedAdapted to cold environments/seasonsSnow Leopard, Caribou
Mighty GiantsLarge in size/for their cladePanda, Giant Armadillo
Mascot MammalsMascots of colleges/universities(Howard) Bison
Mammals of the NounsEcosystem niche featured in common name‘Hyrax of the Rock’
2017Desert-adaptedAdapted to arid environmentsAardwolf, Saiga
Coulda ShouldaContenders defeated unexpectedly 2013–16Sabertooth Cat, Lion
Adjective MammalsCommon name includes adjectiveSac-winged Bat
Two Animals, One MammalTaxa with two-part animal common namesSpider Monkey
2018AntecessorSynapsids and their fossil descendantsDimetrodon, Doedicurus
Great AdaptationsUnique/exceptional traitsCrabeater Seal, Aye Aye
Alt-MammalsOK FINE, WE'LL HAVE NON-MAMMALSMantis Shrimp, Secretary Bird
Urban JungleTaxa that thrive in high density human areasCoyote, Rhesus
2019WaterfallsAquatic adaptationsAquatic Genet, Manatee
Tag TeamInter-species mutualisms (battle as a team)Banded Mongoose and Warthog
Jump-JumpAdaptations for saltationJackrabbit, Serval
CAT-e-GORYNomenclature referring to a felidSea Lion, Tiger Owl

Data availability

Data Availability: Source data are publicly available in the ASU Research Data Repository at dataverse.asu.edu/dataverse/marchmammalmadness (Hinde 2021a&b) and linked with the March Mammal Madness Open Resources Collection (Perry and Hinde 2020).

The following data sets were generated
  1. 1
    ASU Research Data Repository
    1. K Hinde
    MMM Power of Narrative MS Figure Source Data.
  2. 2
    ASU Research Data Repository
    1. K Hinde
    MMM Educator 2018 and 2019 Survey Data.

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