Skip to main content


Log in

Flagship species on covers of US conservation and nature magazines

  • Original Paper
  • Published:
Biodiversity and Conservation Aims and scope Submit manuscript


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Andelman SJ, Fagan WF (2000) Umbrellas and flagships: efficient conservation surrogates or expensive mistakes? Proc Natl Acad Sci 97:5954–5959

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Blackburn TM, Gaston KJ (1994) The distribution of body sizes of the world’s bird species. Oikos 70:127–130

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bowen-Jones E, Entwistle A (2002) Identifying appropriate flagship species: the importance of culture and local contexts. Oryx 36:189–195

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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 86:1290–1297

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burghardt GM, Herzog HA (1980) Beyond conspecifics: is brer rabbit our brother. BioScience 30:763–768

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caro TM, O’Doherty G (1999) On the use of surrogate species in conservation biology. Conserv Biol 13:805–814

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caro T, Engilis A Jr, Fitzherbert E, Gardner T (2004) Preliminary assessment of the flagship species concept at a small scale. Anim Conserv 7:63–70

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Czech B, Krausman PR, Borkhataria R (1998) Social construction, political power, and the allocation of benefits to endangered species. Conserv Biol 12:1103–1112

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Downer CC (1996) The mountain tapir, endangered ‘flagship’ species of the high Andes. Oryx 30:45–58

    Google Scholar 

  • Dunning JB (ed) (1993) CRC handbook of avian body masses. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL

    Google Scholar 

  • Estes JA, Tinker MT, Williams TM, Doak DF (1998) Killer whale predation on sea otters linking oceanic and nearshore ecosystems. Science 282:473–476

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Gardezi T, da Silva J (1999) Diversity in relation to body size in mammals: a comparative study. Amer Nat 153:110–123

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Heywood VH (ed) (1995) Global biodiversity assessment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnsingh AJT, Joshua J (1994) Conserving Rajaji and Corbett National Parks—the elephant as a flagship species. Oryx 28:135–140

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kaltenborn BP, Bjerke T, Nyahongo W, Williams DR (2006) Animal preferences and acceptability of wildlife management actions around Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Biodivers Conserv 15:4633–4649

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kellert SR (1985) Social and perceptual factors in endangered species management. J Wildlife Manage 49:528–536

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kellert SR, Black M, Reid Rush C, Bath AJ (1996) Human culture and large carnivore conservation in North America. Conserv Biol 10:977–990

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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 53–81

    Google Scholar 

  • MacDonald D (ed) (2001) The new encyclopedia of mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK

    Google Scholar 

  • Munoz J (2007) Biodiversity conservation including uncharismatic species. Biodivers Conserv 16:2233–2235

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ord TJ, Blumstein DT (2002) Size constraints and the evolution of display complexity: why do large lizards have simple displays? Biol J Linn Soc 76:145–161

    Google Scholar 

  • Perrins C (ed) (2003) The new encyclopedia of birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK

    Google Scholar 

  • Sergio F, Newton I, Marchesi L (2005) Top predators and biodiversity. Nature 436:192

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Silva M, Downing JA (1995) CRC handbook of mammalian body masses. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL

    Google Scholar 

  • Walpole MJ, Leader-Williams N (2002) Tourism and flagship species in conservation. Biodivers Conserv 11:543–547

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wilson DE, Reeder DM (eds) (2005) Mammal species of the world. Johns Hopkins University Press, Maryland

    Google Scholar 

Download references


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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tim Caro.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Clucas, B., McHugh, K. & Caro, T. Flagship species on covers of US conservation and nature magazines. Biodivers Conserv 17, 1517–1528 (2008).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: