Skip to main content


Log in

What’s in a name? A content analysis of environmental NGOs’ use of “iconic species” in press releases

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


There are many designations people give to species in the context of conservation, some ecological (e.g., umbrella, keystone) and some cultural (e.g., flagship). However, “iconic” is a term with uses in conservation discourse scholars have yet to examine. Environmental nongovernmental organizations (ENGOs) can shape public opinion on conservation issues; hence, understanding their use of the term “iconic species” could help conservation managers assess and respond to stakeholder’s attitudes regarding proposed conservation policies or efforts. This content analysis covered four years’ worth of press releases (n = 203) containing “iconic species” (or an equivalent phrase; e.g., “iconic wildlife”) from six large ENGOs. We examined the species referenced, affiliated terms (including referenced places), press release objectives, and conservation topics. Results indicate that within ENGO communications, the term iconic species is rarely explicitly defined but is generally used to describe species that share taxonomic similarities with the charismatic megafauna of flagship species. However, iconic species appear to represent specific geographic places and are referenced in relation to diverse conservation topics. Thus, iconic species may serve as conduits for communicating regional issues, such as development and species management policies.

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

Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are publicly available from the corresponding author at Horsley, S. (2019, December 9). ENGO Iconic Species Content Analysis. Retrieved from

Code availability

Not applicable.


Download references


We thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments which helped us to improve the manuscript.


There is no funding to report for this study.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sarah Horsley.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

Not applicable.

Consent to participate

Not applicable.

Additional information

Communicated by Peter Bridgewater.

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

This article belongs to the Topical Collection: Biodiversity appreciation and engagement.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Horsley, S., Hohbein, R., Morrow, K. et al. What’s in a name? A content analysis of environmental NGOs’ use of “iconic species” in press releases. Biodivers Conserv 29, 2711–2728 (2020).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: