Selecting flagships for invertebrate conservation
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Invertebrates have a low public profile and are seriously underrepresented in global conservation efforts. The promotion of flagship species is one way to generate interest in invertebrate conservation. Butterflies are frequently labeled invertebrate flagships, but clear definitions of the conservation actions they are meant to catalyze, and empirical assessments of their popularity amongst non-Western audiences are lacking. To improve the use of invertebrate flagships, we examine how butterflies compare with other taxa in terms of popularity. We then identify characteristics of individual species that are appealing and explore whether these may be used to derive a set of guidelines for selecting invertebrate flagships. We conducted questionnaire-based surveys amongst two target audiences: rural residents (n = 255) and tourists (n = 105) in northeast India. Invertebrates that were aesthetically appealing, or those that provided material benefits or ecological services were liked. Butterflies were the most popular group for both audiences, followed by dragonflies, honeybees and earthworms. A combination of large size and bright colours led to high popularity of individual species, whilst butterflies with unique features were liked by tourists but not rural residents. These results provide empirical evidence that butterflies appeal to diverse audiences and have the potential to be deployed as flagships in different contexts. However, prior to promoting invertebrate flagships, their intended uses need to be specified. Here we define an invertebrate flagship as an invertebrate species or group that resonates with a target audience and stimulates awareness, funding, research and policy support for the conservation of invertebrate diversity. In conclusion we outline a set of heuristic guidelines for selecting flagships to raise awareness of invertebrate diversity and conservation.