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

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Abstract

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.

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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 osf.io/kng9e.

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Acknowledgements

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

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There is no funding to report for this study.

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Correspondence to Sarah Horsley.

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Communicated by Peter Bridgewater.

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

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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). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-020-01995-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-020-01995-7

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