Beyond ecosystem services: Using charismatic megafauna as flagship species for mangrove forest conservation

Benjamin S. Thompson, Stefanie M. Rog

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review


The flagship species paradigm (FSP) involves the selection of a species to strategically front conservation efforts and marketing campaigns. Chosen species are often charismatic megafauna: large animals with high public appeal that – in many ecosystems – receive considerable research attention and policy coverage. However, one ecosystem in which this trend is starkly reversed is the mangrove forest, where FSP approaches are rare due to under-acknowledgment or data deficiencies regarding their larger fauna. Instead, mangrove conservation has strongly embraced the ecosystem services paradigm (ESP) since these forests provide many benefits to society such as fisheries provision, coastal protection, and climate change mitigation via blue carbon sequestration. In this article, literature searches reveal that charismatic megafauna – including tigers, sloths, lemurs, proboscis monkeys, manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, crocodiles and sawfish – are severely under-represented in mangrove research, relative to their benthic invertebrates such as crabs, shrimp, and bivalves, explaining why the FSP remains underutilized for mangroves. We further reveal that many candidate flagships species may occur – permanently or periodically – in mangrove habitats around the world, indicating the FSP could have widespread applicability for mangrove conservation. Leveraging upon these findings, we highlight how the FSP can complement, or be integrated with, the ESP in the context of awareness raising, conservation finance, and policy (e.g. Ramsar Convention). We advise that socio-ecological settings, governance systems, and drivers of mangrove deforestation should be considered when designing flagship campaigns to support the protection of these vital wetlands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-17
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Biodiversity
  • Coastal management
  • Ecotourism
  • Endangered species
  • Environmental services
  • Fundraising
  • Marine conservation
  • Protected areas
  • Vertebrates

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