Biodiv Sci ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (8): 21536.  DOI: 10.17520/biods.2021536

• Technology and Methodology • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Proposing a quantitative selection method for determining flagship species based on an analytic hierarchy process

Wenxuan Xu1,2,3, Feng Xu1,2,3, Wei Ma4, Muyang Wang1,2,3, Jiancheng Wang1,*(), Weikang Yang1,2,3,*   

  1. 1. State Key Laboratory of Desert and Oasis Ecology, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Urumqi 830011
    2. The Specimen Museum of Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Urumqi 830011
    3. Mori Wildlife Monitoring and Experimentation Station, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Mori, Xinjiang 831900
    4. Management Center of Xinjiang Kalamaili Mountain Ungulate Nature Reserve, Changji, Xinjiang 831100
  • Received:2021-12-22 Accepted:2022-06-12 Online:2022-08-20 Published:2022-08-31
  • Contact: Jiancheng Wang,Weikang Yang
  • About author:First author contact:

    #Co-first authors


Aims: Flagship species is a widely used concept in conservation biology. Species designated as such have an important role in the conservation of biodiversity by inspiring interest in and motivating support for conservation activities. Despite their importance, flagship species are not chosen with the guidance of quantitative analysis. Instead, species are chosen for the role based upon subjective measures. We improved our understanding and proposed a more informed selection of flagship species by laying out a definition, discussing previous uses, and developing selection criteria based upon quantitative selection methods.

Method: We reviewed the history and development of the flagship species concept. We also determined flagship species should adhere to the following three main eco-biology and cultural selection criteria: (1) having legal protection; (2) having an important role for the maintenance of local ecosystems; (3) being well recognized and highly influential among the general public. On these bases, eight factors that characterize the socio-cultural and eco-biological attributes of flagship species were identified in this paper. After evaluating these factors using an analytic hierarchy process (AHP) decision analysis, a quantitative flagship species selection method was proposed. Specifically, the analytic hierarchy process consists of establishing a hierarchical structure, constructing a comparison matrix, and using consistency testing and a weight calculation. In this method, factors were integrated to calculate a score for each species in consideration, and the flagship can be selected based upon these scores.

Results: The eight factors that capture the key socio-cultural and eco-biological attributes of flagship species are: C1—the legal protection level, C2—whether that level rises to ‘endangered’, C3—whether the target species is endemic to the region or country, C4—trophic level, C5—niche breadth, C6—home range size, C7—recognition among the general public locally, and C8—international recognition. Using a hierarchical process, the weight coefficient of each factor was calculated according to a judgment matrix. After the weight coefficient of each factor was calculated, the score of each was obtained by multiplying the assigned value of each factor by its corresponding weight coefficient. Then the total score of each candidate species was obtained by summing the score value of the eight factors. For an empirical example, we consider 14 candidate species in Tajikistan. Flagship species can be selected based upon the quantitative evidence we report, with the highest score can being the preferred candidate but the specific number chosen to be flagship species being based on the experience of researchers and conservation needs.

Conclusion: The first quantitative method for the selection of flagship species was proposed. The principles and methods we discussed may also inspire further proposals of models and algorithms for flagship species selection. Although our proposed method relies on expert experience, it attempts to mollify the impact of this subjectivity by quantifying expert experience, weighting the coefficient of each selection factor, designing a qualitative and quantitative evaluation system, and ultimately proposing to select flagship species based upon a quantitative evaluation. Importantly, this method provided a rapid means to comprehensively compare candidate species in a certain ecosystem, country, or region, and provided a list of potential flagship species based upon an objective scientific evaluation, and allow it to be considered by researchers and conservation managers for further selection and judgment.

Key words: flagship species, selection criteria, analytic hierarchy process, quantitative selection, conservation biology