Why is it so important to protect the species we know… and the ones we don’t, too!

When you talk about the species conservation, we usually remember some animals that we have seen or heard a lot about, that is, that “have had more marketing”. The white rhinoceros, the lion, the condor and the blue whale are some examples. But there are many species, not just animals, that are vulnerable or are they in Danger of extinction. Some are more familiar to us and others not so much.

In reference to this topic, there are some concepts that are often confused since their scope sometimes overlaps. In particular, we refer to four terms: flagship species, umbrella species, key species and indicator species. Have you heard about them?

What are Flag Species?

Flagship species are those charismatic species that get people involved. By attracting the attention of the public, facilitate financial and government support for conservation programs. And with this, not only the flagship species is protected, but also others that are related (for example, prey or predators), which may not be conspicuous.

About 10 years ago, the zoologist and conservationist Mark Carwardine was interviewed for the youth magazine Tunza (UNEP) and said the following: “Of course it’s not just the pretty animals that need protection, but such flagship species are the only realistic way to generate significant interest. The truth is, if you say that there is a very rare mushroom in India that needs help, no one will lift a finger to do something about it.”

In this sense, flagship species manage to generate empathy in people. This is essential to start the engine of conservation. Ultimately, people who care about a particular species today will extend their commitment and empathy to other threatened species or ecosystems.

Many flagship species have become the logo of different organizations, such as the panda of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) or the oryx of Fauna & Flora International.

And the umbrella species?

Umbrella species are those that they need a large area of ​​land to survive and have a viable population. Its conservation implies the protection of a habitat of important dimensions and, consequently, of other species that live there.

They are generally used to set the boundaries of large protected areas, which may involve several countries. They are also used to suggest ecological corridors between natural areas that are relatively isolated.

Many birds and many large carnivorous mammals are considered umbrella species. Some examples are the wildebeest, which was considered to define the limits of the National Park Serengeti (Tanzania), and the jaguar or yaguaretéprotagonist of the Jaguar Conservation Strategy 2020-2030 launched by WWF.

What role do Keystone Species play?

Key species are those whose presence maintains the balance of the ecosystem in which it lives. At the same time, influence other speciesfor example, through population control of animals or plants that are considered pests or through pollination. Therefore, the importance of this type of species is the role they play in their habitat.

Many of these species are those that are considered ecosystem engineers because they modify the environment in which they live and make it habitable for other living beings. Two quite different examples are earthworms and elephants.

On their way, the elephants open clearings in the forests that are used by other species as corridors. In addition, they facilitate the growth of new plants.

indicator species

Indicator species are those that they allow to evaluate the state of an environment or ecosystem in an indirect way. This is because they are species sensitive to environmental changessuch as the presence of a contaminant in the air or water, or a decrease in oxygen.

Many of them too allow to evaluate the presence of other species that coexist in the same environment and the richness of ecosystems. These bioindicators facilitate the evaluation of the health of ecosystems.

Lichens, bryophytes, amphibians, and some insects and birds are considered bioindicators.

40% of all known amphibian species are threatened with extinction.

The same species can be bioindicator and charismatic, or it can function as an umbrella and a flag at the same time, like the puma. In other words, these terms are not mutually exclusive and, after all, one should never lose sight of the fact that the important thing is to conserve biodiversity in all its forms.

Sources:

– Redalyc

-WWF

– Tunza Magazine