Umbrella species are often chosen to represent an ecosystem in need of protection. The idea is that protecting the umbrella species will indirectly benefit habitat and other species in the area. But the strategy has its weaknesses. There are three varieties of the umbrella species concept as coined by Tim Caro in his book Conservation by Proxy—classic, local, and management— each of which is liable to fail if implemented incorrectly or in the wrong circumstances.
Classic umbrella strategy
Assumes that if researchers can protect the area that contains a viable population of an umbrella species, that effort will also maintain viable populations of other species in the area.
Risk: The reserve might not be big enough to cover viable populations of other species of concern.
Example: The jaguar (Panthera onca) served as an effective umbrella species for protecting other large mammals in Latin America but was less effective at shielding smaller animals such as rodents, likely due to differences in the size and scale of their respective habitats.
Local umbrella strategy
Makes no viability assumptions, instead simply assuming that protecting the areas where an umbrella species is present will also protect many other species in the same area.
Risk: Other species of conservation concern might not co-occur with the umbrella species and might therefore be unprotected.
Example: The northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) was found to be a good local umbrella species in the Italian Alps, offering protection for other birds species as well as butterflies and other background species. In northern Japan, however, despite being an effective umbrella for a variety of birds, goshawks were not effective as an indicator of the species diversity of butterflies, beetles, or native forest-floor plants.
Management umbrella strategy
Assumes that planned human management and intervention targeting an umbrella species will benefit a suite of other species in the same area.
Risk: The management actions taken to benefit the umbrella species might harm other species.
Example: In Wyoming, mowing that was intended to benefit the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) resulted in a higher abundance of vesper sparrows but lower abundance of Brewer’s sparrows and sage thrashers, likely due to differences in land use.
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