Flagship species
The concept of flagship species is a surrogate species concept with its genesis in the field of conservation biology. The flagship species concept holds that by raising the profile of a particular species, it can successfully leverage more support for biodiversity conservation at large in a particular context.


Several definitions have been advanced for the flagship species concept although the concept has for some time been immerse in confusion even in the academic literature. Most of the latest definitions do however focus on the strategic and socio-economical character of the concept, with a recent publication establishing a clear link with the marketing field.
  • “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.”
  • species that have the ability to capture the imagination of the public and induce people to support conservation action and/or to donate funds
  • popular, charismatic species that serve as symbols and rallying points to stimulate conservation awareness and action

However, more recently, work in the field of microbiology has started to use the concept of flagship species is a distinct way. This work relates to the biogeography of micro-organisms and uses particular species as indicators of endemism since "eyecatching “flagships” with conspicuous size and/or morphology are the best distribution indicators".


Examples of flagship species include the Bengal tiger
Bengal Tiger
The Bengal tiger is a tiger subspecies native to the Indian subcontinent that in 2010 has been classified as endangered by IUCN...

 (Panthera tigris), the giant panda
Giant Panda
The giant panda, or panda is a bear native to central-western and south western China. It is easily recognized by its large, distinctive black patches around the eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. Though it belongs to the order Carnivora, the panda's diet is 99% bamboo...

 (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), the Golden lion tamarin
Golden Lion Tamarin
The golden lion tamarin also known as the golden marmoset, is a small New World monkey of the family Callitrichidae...

 (Leontopithecus rosalia) and the African elephant (Loxodonta sp.).

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).


The flagship species concept appears have become popular around the mid 1980’s 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 and African elephants and rhinos, in the typical mammal centric approach that still dominates how the concept is used today

The use of the concept has been largely dominated by large bodied species, especially mammals, although species from other taxonomic groups have occasionally been used


Flagship species can be selected according to many different characteristics depending on what is valued by the audience they try to target. This is best illustrated by the differences in recommendations made for flagship species selection targeting different target audiences such as local communities. and tourists.


Several limitations have been recognised concerning he use of flagship species:
  • The use of flagship species can skew the management and conservation priorities in they favour and in detriment of more threatened species
  • The managements of different flagships can conflict
  • The disappearance of the flagship can have negative impacts on the attitudes of the conservation stakeholders

Other types of conservation flagships

Conservation flagships can also appear at broader levels, for example as ecosystems (such as coral reefs or rainforests or protected areas (Serengeti or Yellowstone). A number of recent initiatives has developed new conservation flagships based on conservation values of particular areas or species. Examples of these are the EDGE project run by the Zoological Society of London
Zoological Society of London
The Zoological Society of London is a charity devoted to the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats...

 and the Hotspots run by Conservation International
Conservation International
Conservation International is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, which seeks to ensure the health of humanity by protecting Earth's ecosystems and biodiversity. CI’s work focuses on six key initiatives that affect human well-being: climate, food security, freshwater...


See also

  • Keystone species
    Keystone species
    A keystone species is a species that has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance. Such species play 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...

  • Indicator species
    Indicator species
    An indicator species is any biological species that defines a trait or characteristic of the environment. For example, a species may delineate an ecoregion or indicate an environmental condition such as a disease outbreak, pollution, species competition or climate change...

  • Charismatic megafauna
    Charismatic megafauna
    Charismatic megafauna are large animal species with widespread popular appeal that environmental activists use to achieve conservation goals well beyond just those species...

  • Umbrella species
    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...

Further reading

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