Focus on ‘umbrella’ species could save more Aussie animals

The Australian government could improve conservation of threatened species by a factor of seven if it prioritized more efficient “umbrella” species for protection, according to new research.

Umbrella species are species those that, when preserved, indirectly protect many other plant and animal species.

Michelle War, a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland, says different choices in Australia could provide more assistance for threatened species.

“The Australian Federal Government’s umbrella prioritization list identifies 73 species as conservation priorities,” she says. “But this only ends up benefiting 6% of all Australia’s threatened terrestrial species. This figure could be increased to benefit nearly half of all threatened terrestrial species for the same budget.

“One of the main reasons is that many umbrella species are chosen based on their public appeal, rather than their efficiency for protecting other species—we want to change that.”

The researchers investigated what umbrella species could maximize the flora and fauna benefiting from management, while considering threats, actions, and costs.

“The koala, red goshawk, matted flax-lily, and purple clover are more efficient umbrella species, yet none of these appear on the existing federal government priority species list.

“Australia has committed to prevent further extinction of known threatened species and improve their conservation status by 2020. Yet, with limited funding committed to conservation, we need better methods to efficiently prioritize investment of resources.”

Senior author Hugh Possingham, a professor at the University of Queensland and the Nature Conservancy, says in a time of crisis, smart decision-making is essential.

“Now is precisely the time where governments need to get their investment in nature to be as efficient as possible,” he says. “Nations around the world can significantly improve the selection of umbrella species for conservation action by taking advantage of our transparent, quantitative, and objective prioritization approach.

“With a species extinction crisis, looming international deadlines, and limited conservation funding globally, we need better methods to efficiently prioritize investment of resources in species recovery.”

The study appears in Conservation Biology. Additional researchers from the University of Queensland, the Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the United Nations Development Program contributed to the work.

Source: University of Queensland