Skip to main content

Advertisement

Log in

Mobilizing metaphors: the popular use of keystone, flagship and umbrella species concepts

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

Abstract

Misrepresentation of terminology is a major impediment for attempts at enhancing public conservation literacy. Despite being critically important for improving conservation practice, there have been few systematic analyses of the popular use of conservation terminology. This paper draws from science communication studies and metaphor analysis, to examine how keystone, flagship and umbrella species concepts are used and represented in non-academic contexts. 557 news articles containing these terms were systematically analyzed. Mammals featured in 60% of articles on keystones, 55% on flagships and 63% on umbrella species. Number of articles explaining the terms keystone (35%) and flagship (31%) was low, and keystones were the most misrepresented term. Keystones were metaphorically linked with balance, flagships with representation and umbrella species with protection. These metaphors influenced public interpretation of scientific terminology, oriented actions towards select species, and led to a valuation of such actions. Together, the findings highlight three important aspects of popular use of conservation terminology: (1) communication is largely biased towards mammals, (2) everyday language plays a vital role in the interpretation of concepts, and (3) metaphors influence peoples’ actions and understanding. Conservation biologists need to engage with issues of language if public conservation literacy is to be improved. Further evaluations of concepts with high public and policy relevance, systematic identification of communication shortfalls, and linguistic assessments prior to promoting new terms are potential ways of achieving this.

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

Similar content being viewed by others

Notes

  1. “Engineering” has an ecological basis, and some authorities consider ecosystem engineers as a distinct subset of keystone species (Caro 2010). Whilst keystone species should have disproportionate effects in comparison to their relative abundance, this is not necessarily true for ecosystem engineers.

Abbreviations

IUCN:

International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

References

  • Antilla L (2005) Climate of skepticism: US newspaper coverage of the science of climate change. Glob Environ Change 15:338–352

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Armstrong D (2002) Focal and surrogate species: getting the language right. Conserv Biol 16(2):285–286

    Google Scholar 

  • Ashlin A, Ladle R (2006) Environmental science adrift in the blogosphere. Science 312:201

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Ashlin A, Ladle R (2007) “Natural disasters” and newspapers: post-tsunami environmental discourse. Environ Hazards 7:330–341

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Barua M (2010) Whose issue? Representations of human-elephant conflict in Indian and international media. Sci Commun 32(1):55–75

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boykoff MT (2007) From convergence to contention: United States mass media representations of anthropogenic climate change science. Trans Inst Br Geogr 32:477–489

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cachelin A, Norvell R, Darling A (2010) Language fouls in teaching ecology: why traditional metaphors undermine conservation literacy. Conserv Biol 24(3):669–674

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Carignan V, Villard M (2002) Selecting indicator species to monitor ecological integrity: a review. Environ Monit Assess 78:45–61

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Caro TM (2010) Conservation by proxy. Island Press, Washington

    Google Scholar 

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dumit J (2010) Inter-pill-ation and the instrumentalization of compliance. Anthropol Med 17(2):245–247

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

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

    Google Scholar 

  • Kotliar NB, Baker BW, Whicker AD et al (1999) A critical review of assumptions about the prairie dog as a keystone species. Environ Manag 24(2):177–192

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ladle RJ, Gilson L (2009) The (im)balance of nature: a public perception of time-lag? Public Underst Sci 18:229–242

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Ladle RJ, Jepson P, Whittaker RJ (2005) Scientists and the media: the struggle for legitimacy in climate change and conservation science. Interdisc Sci Rev 30:231–240

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lakoff G (1995) Metaphor, morality, and politics. Or, why conservatives have left liberals in the dust. Social Res 62(2):1–22

    Google Scholar 

  • Lakoff G, Johnson M (2003) Metaphors we live by, 2nd edn. University of Chicago Press, Chicago

    Google Scholar 

  • Lamb BL, Cline K (2003) Public knowledge and perceptions of black-tailed prairie dogs. Hum Dimens Wildl 8:127–143

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Leader–Williams N, Dublin HT (2000) Charismatic megafauna as ‘flagship species’. In: Entwistle A, Dunstone N (eds) Priorities for conservation of mammalian diversity: has the panda had its day?. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp 53–84

    Google Scholar 

  • Lybecker DL, Lamb BL, Ponds PD (2002) Public attitudes and knowledge of the black-tailed prairie dog: a common and controversial species. Bioscience 52(7):607–613

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • MacDonald DW, Tattersall FH, Brown ED et al (1995) Reintroducing the European beaver to Britain: nostalgic meddling or restoring biodiversity? Mammal Rev 25(4):161–200

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meffe G, Carroll CR (1997) Principles of conservation biology. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland

    Google Scholar 

  • Nie M (2001) The sociopolitical dimensions of wolf management and restoration in the United States. Hum Ecol Rev 8(1):1–12

    Google Scholar 

  • Nisbet MC, Brossard D, Kroepsch A (2003) Framing science: the stem cell controversy in an age of press/politics. Int J Press/Politics 8(2):36–70

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Peterson MN, Birckhead JL, Leong K et al (2010) Rearticulating the myth of human-wildlife conflict. Conserv Lett 3:74–82

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Salafsky N, Salzer D (2005) The unglamorous essential foundation of conservation science. Oryx 39(3):235–236

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shoemaker PJ, Reese SD (1991) Mediating the message: theories of influences on mass media content. Longman, White Plains

    Google Scholar 

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

    Google Scholar 

  • Simberloff D (1998) Flagships, umbrellas and keystones: is single species management passé in the landscape era? Biol Conserv 83:247–257

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Simpson J, Weiner E (eds) (1989) Oxford English dictionary. Clarendon Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Trimble MJ, Van Aarde RJ (2010) Species inequality in scientific study. Conserv Biol 24(3):886–890

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Trumbo B, Dunwoody S, Griffin RJ (1998) Journalists, cognition, and the presentation of an epidemiologic study. Sci Commun 19:238–265

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Webb TJ, Raffaelli D (2008) Conversations in conservation: revealing and dealing with language differences in environmental conflicts. J Appl Ecol 45:1198–1204

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wiegold MF (2001) Communicating science: a review of the literature. Sci Commun 23:164–193

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Prof. Stuart Pimm for his invaluable suggestions in improving the manuscript, and Paul Jepson and Sushrut Jadhav for many stimulating conversations. This work was completed through the support of the University of Oxford Clarendon Fund, Felix and Wingate Scholarships.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Maan Barua.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

10531_2011_35_MOESM1_ESM.xls

A complete list of explanations of keystone, flagship and umbrella species in the news articles (Appendix S1) is given below. (XLS 48 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Barua, M. Mobilizing metaphors: the popular use of keystone, flagship and umbrella species concepts. Biodivers Conserv 20, 1427–1440 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-011-0035-y

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-011-0035-y

Keywords

Navigation