Flagship species on covers of US conservation and nature magazines

  • Barbara Clucas
  • Katherine McHugh
  • Tim CaroEmail author
Original Paper


Some conservation organizations publish magazines that showcase current conservation and research projects, attract new subscribers and maintain membership, often using flagship species to promote these objectives. This study investigates the nature of flagship species featured on the covers of ten representative US conservation and nature magazines, Defenders, National Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation, Zoonooz, Nature Conservancy, Outdoor America, Sierra, Audubon, California Wild and Natural History. Operationally defining flagship species by diet, taxonomic order, body size and IUCN status, we found that magazines tend to use mammal and bird species rather than invertebrate, fish, amphibian, reptile or plant taxa on their covers. Featured birds were mostly omnivorous or piscivorous, large-bodied and of little conservation concern; featured mammals were mainly carnivorous or herbivorous, large-bodied and of considerable conservation concern. These analyses confirm, for the first time, anecdotal observations about conservation organizations focusing their publicity and programmes on large, charismatic species to raise awareness and funds and raise the spectre that the public may be exposed to only a selected sample of conservation problems.


Body size Diet Endangered status Taxon 



B.C. and K.M. were both supported by National Science Foundation fellowships. We thank the Animal Behavior Graduate Group Thursday night meetings, Annie Leonard, and Andy Marshall for useful suggestions.


  1. Andelman SJ, Fagan WF (2000) Umbrellas and flagships: efficient conservation surrogates or expensive mistakes? Proc Natl Acad Sci 97:5954–5959PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Blackburn TM, Gaston KJ (1994) The distribution of body sizes of the world’s bird species. Oikos 70:127–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bowen-Jones E, Entwistle A (2002) Identifying appropriate flagship species: the importance of culture and local contexts. Oryx 36:189–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bradley DR, Bradley TD, McGrath SG, Cutcomb SD (1979) Type I error rate of the Chi-square test of independence in R X C tables that have small expected frequencies. Psychol Bull 86:1290–1297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Burghardt GM, Herzog HA (1980) Beyond conspecifics: is brer rabbit our brother. BioScience 30:763–768CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Caro TM, O’Doherty G (1999) On the use of surrogate species in conservation biology. Conserv Biol 13:805–814CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Caro T, Engilis A Jr, Fitzherbert E, Gardner T (2004) Preliminary assessment of the flagship species concept at a small scale. Anim Conserv 7:63–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Czech B, Krausman PR, Borkhataria R (1998) Social construction, political power, and the allocation of benefits to endangered species. Conserv Biol 12:1103–1112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Downer CC (1996) The mountain tapir, endangered ‘flagship’ species of the high Andes. Oryx 30:45–58Google Scholar
  10. Dunning JB (ed) (1993) CRC handbook of avian body masses. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FLGoogle Scholar
  11. Estes JA, Tinker MT, Williams TM, Doak DF (1998) Killer whale predation on sea otters linking oceanic and nearshore ecosystems. Science 282:473–476PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gardezi T, da Silva J (1999) Diversity in relation to body size in mammals: a comparative study. Amer Nat 153:110–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Heywood VH (ed) (1995) Global biodiversity assessment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKGoogle Scholar
  14. Johnsingh AJT, Joshua J (1994) Conserving Rajaji and Corbett National Parks—the elephant as a flagship species. Oryx 28:135–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kaltenborn BP, Bjerke T, Nyahongo W, Williams DR (2006) Animal preferences and acceptability of wildlife management actions around Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Biodivers Conserv 15:4633–4649CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kellert SR (1985) Social and perceptual factors in endangered species management. J Wildlife Manage 49:528–536CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kellert SR, Black M, Reid Rush C, Bath AJ (1996) Human culture and large carnivore conservation in North America. Conserv Biol 10:977–990CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Leader-Williams N, Dublin HT (2000) Charismatic megafauna as ‘flagship’ species. In: Entwistle A, Dunstone N (eds) Has the Panda had its day? Future priorities for the conservation of mammal diversity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp 53–81Google Scholar
  19. MacDonald D (ed) (2001) The new encyclopedia of mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UKGoogle Scholar
  20. Munoz J (2007) Biodiversity conservation including uncharismatic species. Biodivers Conserv 16:2233–2235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ord TJ, Blumstein DT (2002) Size constraints and the evolution of display complexity: why do large lizards have simple displays? Biol J Linn Soc 76:145–161Google Scholar
  22. Perrins C (ed) (2003) The new encyclopedia of birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UKGoogle Scholar
  23. Sergio F, Newton I, Marchesi L (2005) Top predators and biodiversity. Nature 436:192PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Silva M, Downing JA (1995) CRC handbook of mammalian body masses. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FLGoogle Scholar
  25. Walpole MJ, Leader-Williams N (2002) Tourism and flagship species in conservation. Biodivers Conserv 11:543–547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Wilson DE, Reeder DM (eds) (2005) Mammal species of the world. Johns Hopkins University Press, MarylandGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Animal Behavior Graduate GroupUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

Personalised recommendations