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Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 11.45.55 AMI am a huge fan of Katie Hinde, Human Evolutionary Professor at Harvard. And once again she is teeming up with other researchers to make science exciting and fun.

Hinde and colleagues, Kristi Lewton, assistant professor at Boston University, Joshua Drew, lecturer at Columbia University, and Chris Anderson, assistant professor at Dominican University, have created Mammal March Madness, an NCAA-style tournament that pits mammalian species against each other in one-on-one simulated combat competitions. The outcomes are based on similar attributes between species, including temperament, size, weaponry, defensive mechanisms and habitat.

This year’s competition has all new divisions: Mighty Mini Mammal, Sexy Beast, Critically Endangered and, for the first-time ever, Mythical Mammals. Get ready to gather some unicorn dust (assuming they don’t make it)!

MMMBracket2015_final_BINOMIALS

These are serious fake battles and the research behind each mammal, including mythical ones, is very thorough. “Preparing for Mammal March Madness is basically biology boot camp,” says Hinde. “I read hundreds of research articles about the different animals- their natural history, their environment, their adaptations, and their interactions with other animals.”

Mammal March Madness is a great tool to create excitement and interest in the animals’ ecology, social behavior, evolution and reproduction. “One of the reasons why I became involved with this project was that it was a great way to not only talk about the diversity of life, but to highlight some of the threats facing these really fascinating animals,” says Drew.

“This year is especially exciting for me,” says Lewton. “Because one of the divisions highlights critically endangered species, which I hope will inspire participants to actively support wildlife conservation efforts.”

This year’s event features an exciting team up with tattoo artists from Cirque de Rouge Tattoo Shop in Washington, DC. and Adam Cole of Skunk Bear who will create original art of all the species.

You can follow March Mammal Madness on Twitter using the hashtag #2015MMM and on Storify. Three of the four co-organizers will be live-tweeting the final round from St. Louis on March 26th during the American Association of Physical Anthropologists annual meeting.

Thousands of people (including schools and museum staff) play each year. If you are playing along, the organizers would love it if you emailed a picture of yourself holding the bracket to mammalmarchmadness@gmail.com. “Probably the most fun aspect of Mammal March Madness for me is the contributions by the participants who have filled out brackets and are rooting for their ‘team’,” says Anderson. “For any given battle, one of the co-organizers provides the play-by-play, but ‘color commentary’ is added by everyone who participates at the hashtag (#2015MMM). It’s very cool when someone shares a personal photograph or first-hand experience with one of the species.”

It’s been a rough winter; have some fun placing bets and cheering for these mammals. You might even learn something and, who knows, there might be another Cinderella upset like last year, when the hyena beat out the Orca!

Check out my earlier profile of Dr. Hinde.

March 10, 2015, Update:  NPR is also running coverage of the tournament!

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