Flagship species

In conservation biology, a flagship species is a species chosen to raise support for biodiversity conservation in a given place or social context. Definitions have varied, but they have tended to focus on the strategic goals and the socio-economic nature of the concept, to support the marketing of a conservation effort. The species need to be popular, to work as symbols or icons, and to stimulate people to provide money or support.

Species selected since the idea was developed in 1980s include widely recognised and charismatic species like the black rhinoceros, the Bengal tiger, and the Asian elephant. More locally significant species like the Chesapeake blue crab and the Pemba flying fox have suited a cultural and social context.

Utilizing a flagship species has limitations. It can skew management and conservation priorities, which may conflict. Stakeholders may be negatively affected if the flagship species is lost. The use of a flagship may have limited effect, and the approach may not protect the species from extinction: all of the top ten charismatic groups of animal including tigers, lions, elephants and giraffes are endangered.

Berijam tiger sign
Tiger as flagship species for a campaign in India


JCBCP logo
Zanzibar red colobus as flagship species for a conservation organization in Zanzibar

The term flagship is linked to the metaphor of representation. In its popular usage, flagships are viewed as ambassadors or icons for a conservation project or movement. The geographer Maan Barua noted that metaphors influence what people understand and how they act; that mammals are disproportionately chosen; and that biologists need to come to grips with language to improve the public's knowledge of conservation.[1] Several definitions have been advanced for the flagship species concept and for some time there has been confusion even in the academic literature.[2] Most of the latest definitions focus on the strategic, socio-economic, and marketing character of the concept.[2][3]

  • "a species used as the focus of a broader conservation marketing campaign based on its possession of one or more traits that appeal to the target audience".[2]
  • "species that have the ability to capture the imagination of the public and induce people to support conservation action and/or to donate funds".[4]
  • "popular, charismatic species that serve as symbols and rallying points to stimulate conservation awareness and action".[3][5]


The flagship species concept appears to have become popular around the mid 1980s[6] within the debate on how to prioritise species for conservation. The first widely available references to use the flagship concept applied it to both neotropical primates[7] and African elephants and rhinos,[8] in the mammal-centric approach that still dominates how the concept is used.[9][10][11] The use of flagship species has been dominated by large bodied animals,[12] especially mammals,[11] although members of other taxonomic groups have occasionally been used.[13]

"Behind the eagel stand the forests" - NARA - 513948
Bald eagle as flagship for forests in the United States

Flagship species projects have sometimes been successful in saving the species and its habitat, as with the American bald eagle[14] and the manatee.[15]

Choosing species

Chosen flagship species include the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris), the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), the Golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia), the African elephant (Loxodonta sp.) and Asian elephant (Elephas maximus).[2][9] However, because flagship species are selected according to the audience they are hoping to influence, these species can also belong to traditionally uncharismatic groups, if the cultural and social content is right.[16][2] Less charismatic but locally significant species include the use of the Pemba flying fox as a flagship in Tanzania,[16] and of the Chesapeake blue crab as a flagship in the USA.[17]

Some flagship species are keystone species, like the African lion, a top predator: it used to control the populations of large herbivores, protecting ecosystems across the entire landscape. However, the lion's ability to serve as a keystone species is decreasing as its population and range decline.[18][19] The WWF uses flagship species as one of its species classification categories, along with keystone and indicator species. It chooses between these when selecting a priority species to represent the conservation threats facing a certain region.[20]

POL Bieszczadzki Park Narodowy LOGO
Eurasian lynx as flagship for a protected area in Poland

Flagship species can represent an environmental feature (e.g. a species or ecosystem), cause (e.g. climate change or ocean acidification), organization (e.g. NGO or government department) or geographic region (e.g. state or protected area).[2][21][10]

Flagship species can be selected according to many different methodologies, such as social marketing, environmental economics, and conservation biology, depending on what is valued by the audience they try to target,[2] and the goals of the project, such as conservation awareness, fundraising, ecotourism promotion, community-based conservation, and promotion of funded research.[10] This is illustrated by the differences in recommendations made for flagship species selection targeting different target audiences such as local communities[16] and tourists.[12]


5000 tz shillings front
5000 Tanzanian shillings bank note with Black rhinoceros as flagship for the country's wildlife

The use of flagship species has some limitations:[22]

  • They can skew the management and conservation priorities in their favour, to the detriment of more threatened but less charismatic species.[23]
  • The management of different flagships can conflict.[23]
  • The disappearance of the flagship can have negative impacts on the attitudes of the conservation stakeholders.[23]
  • They may have limited impact on the behaviour of donors, if the donors cannot dedicate much time to processing the campaign message.[24]

Leaving aside the impact on other species, charisma does not seem to protect even charismatic species against extinction. All ten of the most charismatic groups[a] of animal identified in a 2018 study, namely tiger, lion, elephant, giraffe, leopard, panda, cheetah, polar bear, wolf, and gorilla, are currently endangered; only the giant panda shows a demographic growth from an extremely small population. The researchers suggest that the widespread use of images of these animals has given the public the impression that the animals are abundant, obscuring their high risk of imminent extinction. They note that this remains true despite the intense focus of conservation efforts on these particular species.[22] A major challenge for the utilization of several flagship species in non-Western contexts is that they may come into conflict with local communities, thereby jeopardizing well-intended conservation actions. This has been termed 'flagship mutiny', and is exemplified by the Asian elephant in countries where there is human-elephant conflict.[9]

Other types

Conservation flagships can be used at broader levels, for example as ecosystems like coral reefs, rainforests or protected areas like the Serengeti or Yellowstone. Some recent initiatives have developed flagships based on the conservation value of particular areas or species. Examples of these are the EDGE project run by the Zoological Society of London and the Hotspots run by Conservation International.[2] More recently, work in microbiology has started to use flagship species in a distinct way. This work relates to the biogeography of micro-organisms and uses particular species because "eyecatching "flagships" with conspicuous size and/or morphology are the best distribution indicators".[25][26]

See also


  1. ^ Elephant includes African savannah, African forest, and Asian species; giraffe has been split into four species.


  1. ^ Barua, Maan (2011). "Mobilizing metaphors: the popular use of keystone, flagship and umbrella species concepts". Biodiversity and Conservation. 20 (7): 1427–1440. doi:10.1007/s10531-011-0035-y.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Verissimo, Diogo; MacMillan, Douglas C.; Smith, Robert J. (2010-11-29). "Toward a systematic approach for identifying conservation flagships". Conservation Letters. 4 (1): 1–8. doi:10.1111/j.1755-263x.2010.00151.x.
  3. ^ a b Ducarme, Frédéric; Luque, Gloria M.; Courchamp, Franck (2012). "What are "charismatic species" for conservation biologists ?". BioSciences Master Reviews. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
  4. ^ Walpole, Matthew J.; Leader‐Williams, Nigel (2002). "Tourism and Flagship Species in Conservation". Biodiversity and Conservation. 11 (3): 543–547. doi:10.1023/a:1014864708777.
  5. ^ Heywood, V. H. (1995). Global Biodiversity Assessment. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521564816.
  6. ^ Frazier, J. 2005. Marine turtles: the role of flagship species in interactions between people and the Sea MAST, 3(2) and 4(1),5–38
  7. ^ Mittermeier, R. 1988. Primate diversity and the tropical forest. Pages 145-154 in E. O. Wilson, editor. Biodiversity. National Academy Press. Washington, DC.
  8. ^ Mittermeier, Russell A. (1986). "Primate Conservation Priorities in the Neotropical Region". In Benirschke, K. (ed.). Primates. Primates: The road to self-sustaining populations. Proceedings in Life Sciences. Springer New York. pp. 221–240. doi:10.1007/978-1-4612-4918-4_16. ISBN 978-1-4612-9360-6.
  9. ^ a b c Barua, Maan; Tamuly, Jatin; Ahmed, Riyaz Akhtar (2010-03-24). "Mutiny or Clear Sailing? Examining the Role of the Asian Elephant as a Flagship Species". Human Dimensions of Wildlife. 15 (2): 145–160. doi:10.1080/10871200903536176.
  10. ^ a b c Barua, Maan; Root-Bernstein, Meredith; Ladle, Richard J.; Jepson, Paul (2011-01-04). "Defining Flagship Uses is Critical for Flagship Selection: A Critique of the IUCN Climate Change Flagship Fleet". AMBIO. 40 (4): 431–435. doi:10.1007/s13280-010-0116-2. PMC 3357738. PMID 21809786.
  11. ^ a b Leader-Williams, N.; Dublin, H. T. (2000). Entwistle, Abigail (ed.). Charismatic megafauna as 'flagship species'. Priorities for the conservation of mammalian diversity : has the panda had its day. Cambridge University Press. pp. 53–81. ISBN 978-0-521-77536-6. OCLC 42682803.
  12. ^ a b Veríssimo, D.; Fraser, I.; Groombridge, J.; Bristol, R.; MacMillan, D. C. (2009-07-03). "Birds as tourism flagship species: a case study of tropical islands" (PDF). Animal Conservation. 12 (6): 549–558. doi:10.1111/j.1469-1795.2009.00282.x.
  13. ^ Guiney, Margaret; Oberhauser, Karen (2009-02-01). "Insects as flagship conservation species". Terrestrial Arthropod Reviews. 1 (2): 111–123. doi:10.1163/187498308x414733.
  14. ^ "Bald Eagles | Life History and Conservation Success". US Fish & Wildlife Service. 20 April 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  15. ^ Carroll, Sean B. (22 April 2016). "How Two Kinds of Regulation Brought Back the Manatee | The massive marine mammal's numbers have increased by 400 percent in the past quarter-century—and it's not the only such success story". Scientific American. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  16. ^ a b c Bowen-Jones, Evan; Entwistle, Abigail (2002). "Identifying appropriate flagship species: the importance of culture and local contexts". Oryx. 36 (2): 189–195. doi:10.1017/S0030605302000261.
  17. ^ "Save the Crabs – Then Eat 'Em | The NSMC". www.thensmc.com. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  18. ^ "The African lion: what faster decline of apex predator means for ecosystems". The Conversation. 26 October 2015. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  19. ^ Hale, Sarah L.; Koprowski, John L. (February 2018). "Ecosystem-level effects of keystone species reintroduction: a literature review". Restoration Ecology. 26 (3): 439–445. doi:10.1111/rec.12684.
  20. ^ "Global Species Programe: how WWF classifies species | Know your flagship, keystone, priority and indicator species". WWF. 2017. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  21. ^ Veríssimo, Diogo; MacMillan, Douglas C.; Smith, Robert J. (2011-04-01). "Marketing diversity: a response to Joseph and colleagues". Conservation Letters. 4 (4): 326–327. doi:10.1111/j.1755-263x.2011.00175.x.
  22. ^ a b Courchamp, F.; Jaric, I.; Albert, C.; Meinard, Y.; Ripple, W. J.; Chapron, G. (April 2018). "The paradoxical extinction of the most charismatic animals". PLOS Biology. 16 (4): e2003997. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2003997. PMC 5896884. PMID 29649205.
  23. ^ a b c Simberloff, Daniel (1998). "Flagships, umbrellas, and keystones: Is single-species management passé in the landscape era?". Biological Conservation. 83 (3): 247–257. doi:10.1016/s0006-3207(97)00081-5.
  24. ^ Veríssimo, Diogo; Campbell, Hamish A.; Tollington, Simon; MacMillan, Douglas C.; Smith, Robert J. (2018-01-25). "Why do people donate to conservation? Insights from a 'real world' campaign". PLOS ONE. 13 (1): e0191888. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0191888. PMC 5785011. PMID 29370291.
  25. ^ Foissner, Wilhelm (April 2005). "Two new "flagship" ciliates (Protozoa, Ciliophora) from Venezuela: Sleighophrys pustulata and Luporinophrys micelae". European Journal of Protistology. 41 (2): 99–117. doi:10.1016/j.ejop.2004.10.002.
  26. ^ Foissner, W.; Stoeck, T. (2006). "Rigidothrix goiseri nov gen., nov spec. (Rigidotrichidae nov fam.), a new "flagship" ciliate from the Niger floodplain breaks the flexibility-dogma in the classification of stichotrichine spirotrichs (Ciliophora, Spirotrichea)". European Journal of Protistology. 42 (4): 249–267. doi:10.1016/j.ejop.2006.07.003. PMID 17113471.

Further reading


Bacterivores are free-living, generally heterotrophic organisms, exclusively microscopic, which obtain energy and nutrients primarily or entirely from the consumption of bacteria. Many species of amoeba are bacterivores, as well as other types of protozoans. Commonly, all species of bacteria will be prey, but spores of some species, such as Clostridium perfringens, will never be prey, because of their cellular attributes.

Black seadevil

Black seadevils are small, deepsea lophiiform fishes of the family Melanocetidae. The five known species (with only two given common names) are all within the genus Melanocetus. They are found in tropical to temperate waters of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, with one species known only from the Ross Sea.

One of several anglerfish families, black seadevils are named for their baleful appearance and typically pitch black skin. The family name Melanocetidae may be translated from the Greek melanos meaning "black", and cetus meaning either "whale" or "sea monster". The humpback anglerfish (Melanocetus johnsonii) was featured on the August 14, 1995, issue of Time magazine, becoming something of a flagship species of deepsea fauna.

Charismatic megafauna

Charismatic megafauna are large animal species with symbolic value or widespread popular appeal, and are often used by environmental activists to achieve environmentalist goals. Examples include the humpback whale, giant panda, bald eagle, California condor, harp seal, and penguin. Paradoxically, numerous charismatic species are endangered by hunting and black market commerce.


Decomposers are organisms that break down dead or decaying organisms, and in doing so, they carry out the natural process of decomposition. Like herbivores and predators, decomposers are heterotrophic, meaning that they use organic substrates to get their energy, carbon and nutrients for growth and development. While the terms decomposer and detritivore are often interchangeably used, detritivores must ingest and digest dead matter via internal processes while decomposers can directly absorb nutrients through chemical and biological processes hence breaking down matter without ingesting it. Thus, invertebrates such as earthworms, woodlice, and sea cucumbers are technically detritivores, not decomposers, since they must ingest nutrients and are unable to absorb them externally.

Dominance (ecology)

Ecological dominance is the degree to which a taxon is more numerous than its competitors in an ecological community, or makes up more of the biomass.

Most ecological communities are defined by their dominant species.

In many examples of wet woodland in western Europe, the dominant tree is alder (Alnus glutinosa).

In temperate bogs, the dominant vegetation is usually species of Sphagnum moss.

Tidal swamps in the tropics are usually dominated by species of mangrove (Rhizophoraceae)

Some sea floor communities are dominated by brittle stars.

Exposed rocky shorelines are dominated by sessile organisms such as barnacles and limpets.

Feeding frenzy

In ecology, a feeding frenzy occurs when predators are overwhelmed by the amount of prey available. For example, a large school of fish can cause nearby sharks, such as the lemon shark, to enter into a feeding frenzy. This can cause the sharks to go wild, biting anything that moves, including each other or anything else within biting range. Another functional explanation for feeding frenzy is competition amongst predators. This term is most often used when referring to sharks or piranhas. It has also been used as a term within journalism.

Giam Siak Kecil-Bukit Batu

Giam Siak Kecil-Bukit Batu (Indonesian: Cagar Biosfer Giam Siak Kecil Bukit Batu or CB-GSK-BB) is a peatland area in Riau Province of Sumatra, covering 705,271 hectares (2,723.07 sq mi) and large parts of Bengkalis Regency and Siak Regency. It is a declared UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve and supports a sustainable timber industry. It is home to two wildlife reserves, namely Giam Siak Wildlife Reserve and Bukit Batu Wildlife Reserve; flagship species include the Sumatran elephant and Sumatran tiger.

Keystone species

A keystone species is a species that has a disproportionately large effect on its natural environment relative to its abundance. Such species are described as playing a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community, affecting many other organisms in an ecosystem and helping to determine the types and numbers of various other species in the community. A keystone species is a plant or animal that plays a unique and crucial role in the way an ecosystem functions. Without keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether. Some keystone species, such as the wolf, are also apex predators.

The role that a keystone species plays in its ecosystem is analogous to the role of a keystone in an arch. While the keystone is under the least pressure of any of the stones in an arch, the arch still collapses without it. Similarly, an ecosystem may experience a dramatic shift if a keystone species is removed, even though that species was a small part of the ecosystem by measures of biomass or productivity.

It became a popular concept in conservation biology, alongside flagship and umbrella species. Although the concept is valued as a descriptor for particularly strong inter-species interactions, and it has allowed easier communication between ecologists and conservation policy-makers, it has been criticized for oversimplifying complex ecological systems.

Marbled murrelet

The marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) is a small seabird from the North Pacific. It is a member of the auk family. It nests in old-growth forests or on the ground at higher latitudes where trees cannot grow. Its habit of nesting in trees was suspected but not documented until a tree-climber found a chick in 1974, making it one of the last North American bird species to have its nest described. The marbled murrelet has declined in number since humans began logging its nest trees in the latter half of the 19th century. The decline of the marbled murrelet and its association with old-growth forests, at least in the southern part of its range, have made it a flagship species in the forest preservation movement. In Canada (north of 50° North Latitude) and Alaska, the declines are not so obvious because populations are much larger and the survey techniques have not had sufficient power to detect changes.

Orchid Conservation Coalition

The Orchid Conservation Coalition (OCC) is a grassroots organization made up of people, orchid societies, and orchid businesses dedicated to raising awareness and money for orchid conservation.


An organotroph is an organism that obtains hydrogen or electrons from organic substrates. This term is used in microbiology to classify and describe organisms based on how they obtain electrons for their respiration processes. Some organotrophs such as animals and many bacteria, are also heterotrophs. Organotrophs can be either anaerobic or aerobic.

Antonym: Lithotroph, Adjective: Organotrophic.


Oxylapia is a genus of freshwater fish in the family Cichlidae. It contains the single species Oxylapia polli, known locally as the songatana. It is an endangered species, endemic to the Marolambo Rapids in the Nosivolo River (a tributary of the Mangoro River) in east-central Madagascar. It is threatened by habitat loss and sedimentation caused by deforestation. The only other single-species cichlid genus in Madagascar is Katria, and it is restricted to the same region as Oxylapia. In 2010, the Nosivolo River was designated as a Ramsar Site. The Oxylapia is the conservation flagship species for the district capital Marolambo.Oxylapia is a highly aggressive, elongate species that reaches about 13 centimetres (5.1 in) in length. It is the Malagasy cichlid most adapted to rheophilic conditions, but not the only (members of the lamena group in the genus Paretroplus are also rheophilic).Its specific name honours Max Poll (1908-1991), a Belgian ichthyologist for his research into African cichlids and for the guidance he gave to the authors.

Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary

Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary(Marathi: राधानगरी वन्यजीव अभयारण्य) is a wildlife sanctuary and natural World Heritage Site of category ix and x since 2012, located in Kolhapur , Maharashtra state India. It lies at the southern end of the Sahyadri hills in the Western Ghats. It is notable as the first declared wildlife sanctuary in Maharashtra, notified in 1958, as Dajipur Wildlife Sanctuary and is popularly known as the "Bison Sanctuary". Indian bison or gaur (Bos gaurus) with a population around 1091 in 2014, is the flagship species of the area. It was notified as Radhanagari wildlife sanctuary vide notification No. WLP/1085/CR/588/ V/F-5,Dt.16.9.1985.

Recruitment (biology)

In biology, especially marine biology, recruitment occurs when a juvenile organism joins a population, whether by birth or immigration, usually at a stage whereby the organisms are settled and able to be detected by an observer.There are two types of recruitment: closed and open.In the study of fisheries, recruitment is "the number of fish surviving to enter the fishery or to some life history stage such as settlement or maturity".

Regent honeyeater

The regent honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia) is a critically endangered bird endemic to South Eastern Australia. It is commonly considered a flagship species within its range, with the efforts going into its conservation having positive effects on many other species that share its habitat. Recent genetic research suggests it is closely related to the wattlebirds.

Umbrella species

Umbrella species are species selected for making conservation-related decisions, typically because protecting these species indirectly protects the many other species that make up the ecological community of its habitat. Species conservation can be subjective because it is hard to determine the status of many species. With millions of species of concern, the identification of selected keystone species, flagship species or umbrella species makes conservation decisions easier. Umbrella species can be used to help select the locations of potential reserves, find the minimum size of these conservation areas or reserves, and to determine the composition, structure and processes of ecosystems.

Vallée de Mai

Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve ("May Valley") is a nature park and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the island of Praslin, Seychelles. It consists of a well-preserved palm forest, flagship species made up of the island endemic coco de mer, as well as five other endemic palms. The coco de mer (Lodoicea maldivica), a monocot tree in the Arecaceae (palm family), has the largest seeds (double nut seed) of any plant in the world. Also unique to the park is its wildlife, including birds such as the rare Seychelles black parrot, mammals, crustaceans, snails, and reptiles. There has been a determined effort to eliminate all the introduced exotic species of plants from the area but this has not been successful in eliminating coffee, pineapple, and ornamental palms thus far. This forest, with its peculiar plant and animal species, is a relict from the time when the supercontinent of Gondwana was divided into smaller parts, leaving the Seychelles islands between the present day Madagascar and India.

Wildlife of Bangladesh

The wildlife of Bangladesh includes Bangladesh's flora and fauna.

Bangladesh is home to roughly 53 species of amphibian, 19 species of marine reptiles, 139 species of reptile, 380 species of birds, 116 species of mammals and 5 species of marine mammals. In addition to the large bird count, a further 310 species of migratory birds swell bird numbers each year. Bangladesh is also home to the Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, hoolock gibbon, Asian black bear and other flagship species. The vast majority of these creatures currently dwell in an area of land that is some 150,000 sq kilometers in size. However this does not mean all is well with the country’s natural heritage. So far a number of creatures have disappeared completely from the country and a further 201 species are threatened. The dhole, also called the Asiatic wild dog, is now endangered by habitat and prey-species loss and human persecution. Notable animal species that have disappeared from Bangladesh are the greater one-horned rhinoceros, the Asian two-horned rhinoceros, the gaur, the banteng, swamp deer, nilgai, Indian wolf, wild water buffalo, marsh crocodile and common peafowl.

The majority of the human population lives in or around large cities and this has helped to limit deforestation to some extent. However, the growth rate continues to increase and this has placed large demands on the environment and lead to subsequent clearing of numerous natural habitats. Though several areas are protected under law, a large portion of Bangladeshi wildlife is threatened by this growth.

In 2016, conservationists surveying the super-remote, little-known Chittagong Hill Tracts region of Bangladesh took the country’s first ever photos of the sun bear and gaur. Moreover, the team also captured photos of the Himalayan serow, Asian golden cat, sambar deer, barking deer, leopard cat and Dhole. Locals in the Chittagong Hill Tracts led conservationists to a new population of Arakan forest turtle. Once thought extinct, the critically endangered species was assumed only to survive in neighbouring Myanmar.

Zanzibar red colobus

The Zanzibar red colobus (Piliocolobus kirkii) is a species of red colobus monkey endemic to Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago, off the coast of Tanzania. It is also known as Kirk's red colobus after Sir John Kirk, the British Resident of Zanzibar who first brought it to the attention of zoological science. It is now classified as an endangered species and in the mid-1990s was adopted as the flagship species for conservation in Zanzibar. The population is still decreasing, and conservationists are attempting to work with the local government to devise a proper, effective strategy to protect the population and habitat. Challenges include the species' habitat, which is limited to the archipelago. The species has been reclassified three times; it was previously in the genus Colobus, then in the genus Procolobus, and later in the genus Piliocolobus.

Food webs
Example webs
Ecology: Modelling ecosystems: Other components


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