Color figures are free in @Biotropica! Q: Does everyone understand them? A: No Q: Why Not? (Hint: Red+Green)

One of the advantages of moving to online-only publication of Biotropica is that it is now free for you to publish your figures in color instead of more boring Black/White/Gray.  Surprisingly, very few authors are taking us on on this. I just don’t understand this – eye-catching color figures can make your results easier to understand and and attract attention to your paper. Having said that, there are a couple of things to think about as you choose the color palette for your figures.  The main issue that I have noticed is that many people use red and green in the same image. This is because the contrast between the two makes for really dramatic figures, as you can see here:

Laurance et al. FIg 1
Fig 1. from Laurance et al. 2001: 291(5503): 438-439 as published.
“Optimistic (top) and nonoptimistic (bottom) scenarios, showing predicted forest degradation by the year 2020. (Black is deforested or heavily degraded, including savannas and other nonforested areas. Red is moderately degraded, yellow is lightly degraded, and green is pristine).”

Dramatic indeed..unless you are one of the 8% of men and 0.5%of women who have some form of color vision deficiency (CVD, aka, “color-blindness”). They might see your figure like this, depending on if they have Protanopia (i.e., Red-Blindness; Left) or Tritanopia (i.e., Blue-blindness; Right):

 

 

Fig 1. from Laurance et al. 2001: 291(5503): 438-439 as seen by those with Tritanopia (Left) or Protanopia (Right). “Optimistic (top) and nonoptimistic (bottom) scenarios, showing predicted forest degradation by the year 2020. (Black is deforested or heavily degraded, including savannas and other nonforested areas. Red is moderately degraded, yellow is lightly degraded, and green is pristine).”

 

 

Not quite as eye catching, and definitely harder to understand the message.  So why should you care about these readers?  Well, if they picked up your paper they obviously care about the topic, so they are your target audience – why would you alienate them? But they could also be your current supervisor, your future supervisor, the chair of a job search committee, a panelist on grant proposal panel, or some other person you don’t want to annoy.  Make your figures accessible to all readers.

No idea how to start? there are some really good resources online, including sites to which you can upload figures to see how they appear to people with different forms of CVD.  Here is a small list to get you started. I’ll add links to more if you suggest them in the comments:

PS If you want to learn more about CVD head over to ColourBlindAwareness.org.