Are umbrella species effective for connectivity conservation?

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

The practice of focusing on a single species to protect multiple species is a common conservation strategy.  An “umbrella species” is one whose conservation confers protection to other species that occur along with it.  The concept of an umbrella species is not new, although only recently has it become more common in connectivity conservation.

The umbrella species concept for connectivity is defined by Breckheimer et al. as identifying a single species for which conservation or restoration of its dispersal habitat helps dispersal of other target species. This can be more challenging than identifying umbrella species in general, because of its focus on dispersal (rather than breeding or foraging habitat), and because of the difficulty in understanding and generalizing dispersal behaviors across a suite of species.  However, it has the potential to be useful in connectivity conservation, even when targeted species have different habitat and dispersal requirements.

Two recent studies test the effectiveness of using an umbrella species to conserve connectivity.  In the first, the performance and spatial agreement of different prioritization schemes were compared using subsets of 14 forest species found in the St. Lawrence Lowlands in Southern Quebec. 

Overall, species were more effective surrogates than habitat, and a moderate number of species used as surrogates (5-7) was sufficient to identify connectivity priorities.  However, using an umbrella-type selection of species as surrogates was less successful than an approach that selected species representing a diversity of habitat and/or movement needs.

Sichuan Takin

In the second study, landscape composition and configuration were incorporated into choosing connectivity umbrella species.  Simulated movements of eight hypothetical species with varying dispersal abilities, home ranges, and matrix resistance revealed that each species’ ability to act as a connectivity umbrella species was dependent on the interaction of landscape fragmentation level and habitat amount. 

In general, potential to act as an umbrella species increased as fragmentation went down and habitat amount went up.  The results show that the utility of a connectivity umbrella species may only apply across multiple landscapes when those landscapes have the same levels of patchiness.

A recent example illustrates the potential use of a connectivity umbrella species.  The giant panda – one of the most iconic umbrella species – is under threat in China from fragmentation and destruction of the bamboo forests it inhabits.  Other ecologically important species that co-occur with pandas include takin, tufted deer, Chinese goral, Reeve’s muntjac, leopard cat, and yellow‐throated marten.

Recent research shows that creating and protecting panda corridors could also benefit these other species, although not all corridors are created equal.  Conservation planning that moves beyond a singular focus on the charismatic panda would be more effective to protect many other valuable species in central China as well.


Breckheimer I, Haddad NM, Morris WF, Trainor AM, Fields WR, Jobe RT, Hudgens BR, Moody A, Walters JR. 2014. Defining and evaluating the umbrella species concept for conserving and restoring landscape connectivity. Conservation Biology 28(6):1584-93.

Diniz MF, Machado RB, Bispo AA, Júnior PD. 2018. Can we face different types of storms under the same umbrella? Efficiency and consistency of connectivity umbrellas across different patchy landscape patterns. Landscape Ecology 33(11):1911-23.

Meurant M, Gonzalez A, Doxa A, Albert CH. 2018. Selecting surrogate species for connectivity conservation. Biological Conservation 227:326-34.

Wang F, McShea WJ, Li S, Wang D. 2018. Does one size fit all? A multispecies approach to regional landscape corridor planning. Diversity and Distributions 24(3):415-25.

2018-12-10T12:35:12-04:00 December 12th, 2018|

About the Author:

Heather Cayton
Heather Cayton is the Managing Director of and a Research Assistant at Michigan State University. She received her B.S. from the University of Virginia and her M.S. from Virginia Tech, and has spent the past ten years studying corridors and rare butterflies in North Carolina.