The benefits of using flagship species in conservation campaigns

New research co-authored by the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) has validated the wider conservation benefits of using flagship species as the faces of fundraising initiatives, as part of a novel process for identifying globally important conservation areas.

Using charismatic animals like elephants, tigers and giant pandas to front conservation campaigns can boost far more than just consumer reach, according to a new international study co-authored by Professor Bob Smith, the Director of DICE, alongside international partners including The Nature Conservancy. This approach can deliver substantial broader benefits to vulnerable ecosystems, challenging historic criticisms about a handful of iconic species receiving a disproportional shares of conservation funding.

The study could significantly support how flagship species are identified, prioritised and championed in future, across a host of ecologically critical yet vulnerable landscapes worldwide.

The research team used data on nature reserves, the distribution of human impacts, and the ranges of over 19,000 terrestrial and freshwater species worldwide to identify the most efficient network of locations that represent global biodiversity. Scientists then merged both sets of data into a custom framework that identifies priority places for conservation that are also home to suitable flagship species for maximising fundraising efforts.

Professor Bob Smith said: ‘Since the flagship species approach to conservation fundraising gained traction, scientists have been preoccupied with the question of whether or not they are the best way to direct investments to protect biodiversity, often becoming bogged-down in arguments based on biology and ecology. Our study is the first to focus on the important conservation question, how can we use these species to raise funds for important places, and what are we compromising in our conservation objectives when we do?

Dr Jennifer McGowan from The Nature Conservancy who led the work said: ‘Practically speaking, we created a way to identify a number of locations around the world that are most important for conserving the lands and water on which we all depend – from wildlife biodiversity to natural carbon storage – and then also identify charismatic species that could be used to direct increased fundraising into these critical landscapes’.

The research paper titled, ‘Conservation prioritization can resolve the flagship species conundrum’ is published in ‘Nature Communications’.