An umbrella species is a family of organisms that have been chosen as the basis for conservation plans. 

Since safeguarding these species automatically protects several other groups of animals that comprise the ecosystem, they are known as “umbrella” species. 

The umbrella species can be utilized to aid in selecting possible sanctuaries that will help in the ecosystem’s equilibrium. They also assist in determining the size of protected areas, composition, design, and biodiversity.

For the population of these species to thrive, they require a lot of domains. They survive for a long time and are a crucial part of their natural environment.

Various species of significance are grouped into distinct categories such as umbrella species, keystone species, or flagship species. These populations’ recognition facilitates conservation strategies.

The umbrella effect occurs when the preservation of these species expands to the protection of other species in the umbrella species’ environment. Hence, that makes it convenient to maintain and improve the sustainability of ecosystems. 

Although a few experts claim that this strategy is the most beneficial, others believe various instruments can be more productive.

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Role in Ecosystem Protection

The umbrella effect is the premise that saving one species will assist in preserving and protecting many other species that coexist with it. When the habitat territories of the two species coincide, they coexist.

This coexistence is because they have similar ecological requirements, such as the weather they might tolerate or the necessity to dwell in mountainous terrain. 

By preserving an umbrella species’ habitat territories, the ecosystems in that region will remain untouched and sustainable for the other animal groups that depend on it.

According to an analysis by the University of California, Santa Barbara, the variety of vertebrate species living in safeguarded conservation zones for the sage grouse was 82 percent more than they would anticipate seeing in an unguarded environment.

A group of experts in British Columbia investigated the umbrella effect of coho salmon. Overall, they discovered numerous fish species density to be much higher in the coho’s safeguarded habitat territory than outside the protected area.

The giant panda is perhaps the most popular umbrella species. According to Duke University researchers, 96 percent of the Giant panda ecosystem coincides with the territories of species found solely in the particular region of China. 

Except for a single endemic species, all existing protected zones for giant pandas intersect. The stimulating environment for these species is also conserved by safeguarding the giant panda’s native territories.

Umbrella Species Examples

Umbrella species could be both vegetations and animals, with one species protecting another. 

Because most umbrella species are designated on the IUCN Red List as critically endangered or threatened, their safety includes preserving their environment. The spotted owl, whose preservation safeguards mature trees, is a famous umbrella species. 

The protection of both species has resulted in the conservation of snails and salamanders inside this regulatory perimeter. The preservation of the Bay checkerspot butterfly entails the protection of pasture. 

The security of the Amur tiger in the Russian Far East entails protecting and preserving deer and boar in their natural surroundings. 

Due to the apparent umbrella effect, the conservation of canebrake extends to a broader range of species inside its environment. 

Several other wildlife groups that live in rattlesnake areas but require minimal protection efforts benefit from the rattlesnake’s preservation.

1. Right Whale

Right whales - umbrella species
Right whale dynamics of different regions| Photo by Fredrik Christiansen

Right whales are gigantic, peaceful, and joyful. But, the sad part is they have had the ill fate of being characterized and labeled by their usefulness as possessions instead of living beings. 

Fishermen termed the species “right whales” because they believed they were the “perfect whales” to slaughter since they are sluggish movers that swim close to the coast and their corpses float on the sea.

During the early twentieth century, right whales were slaughtered for fuel, flesh, and clothing items such as corset snaps, umbrella supports, and buggy lash. 

The North Pacific right whale, formerly common, is the world’s most endangered whale. In recent decades, the fertility rates of these whales have also gone down substantially. 

The biggest threats to these whales are ship collisions and getting tangled in fishing lines. Artificial marine sound disturbance could also disrupt natural right whale activity, potentially impairing interaction.

2. Bay checkerspot butterfly

Bay checkerspot butterfly - umbrella species
Bay Checkerspot Butterfly| Photo by butterfly Identification

Starting with a fun fact, bay checkerspot butterflies wander from point a to point b until they discover a party that persuades them to stay. They have a wingspan of just over two inches and are moderate-sized butterflies. 

The veins on the external surface of its flaps feature black bands that contrast dramatically with the bright red, golden, and white markings.

The number of checkerspots at Edgewood and everywhere else started to plummet in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

Thousands of square miles in the San Francisco bay area were previously home to the bay checkerspot butterfly. 

Even though significant populations of butterflies could still be spotted in Santa Clara County, the species had become extinct long ago. 

Since 1987, the Bay checkerspot butterfly has been on the Endangered Species List. Across its habitat, the bay checkerspot is in peril.

Degradation and destruction of the ecosystem due to suburbanization and deterioration of existing grassland by invasive pests and ineffective management, such as overgrazing and wildfire, have served as significant threats. 

The decline of microhabitats has been exacerbated by the expansion of European grasses, first brought by immigrants.

3. Spotted Owl

spotted owl - umbrella species
Spotted owl in Kanha national park| Photo by Hans Jurgen Mager

Spotted Owls prefer old forests and are susceptible to disturbances in their environment. 

On rare occasions, one can find the Northern Spotted Owl in extensive, ancient woods with intricate stratified understory. 

The California subspecies can be found in both coniferous and oak forest areas. Pine-oak woodlands, deep canyons, and diverse conifer forests are all habitats for the Mexican subspecies. 

They like old-growth woods, mainly Douglas fir rainforests, which mature for 150 to 200 years. Heavy canopy layering, stumps (dead trees), and vast regions for gliding beneath and among trees characterize these sorts of habitats.

Northern spotted owls were declared endangered by the federal government in 1990. Regrettably, the lumber industry prefers the old-growth pines that the owls seek. 

It could take years for a rainforest to recover to the point where it can support northern spotted owls after it has been chopped. 

As a result, mitigation strategies have been implemented to safeguard some of the ecosystems of the northern spotted owl. 

Interaction with barred owls, a species found all across the eastern United States, also coincides with the territory of northern spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest, is another significant danger. 

Northern spotted barred owls outcompete owls, and they sometimes mate with them, resulting in unwanted hybrids.

4. Giant Panda

Gaint Panda - umbrella species
Giant panda at Chengdu Research base of Gaint Panda Breeding, China| Photo by Yu Wang

The giant panda is much more than a cute preservation figure. As per the latest report, it also protects a slew of other rare Chinese species. 

This one-of-a-kind bear has been adored for hundreds of years and may be traced back to Chinese art. The Chinese refer to pandas as gigantic bear-cats.

The black-and-white bear, the giant panda, has a bear-like physique. Ears, eyespots, snout, limbs, and the body are all covered in shaggy black hair, and the animal’s pelt is primarily snowy. 

Though experts are unsure why these rare bears are black and white, others suggest that the bright colors help them blend in.

Only 1,864 giant pandas are roaming about in the wild, with another 600 living in zoos and breeding institutions across the planet. 

Initiatives help shield many other animals, birds, and reptiles residing in pandas’ exact locations and territories to safeguard Giant panda environments.

They were included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered until 2016; however, they are classified as vulnerable today.

4. Red Wolf

red wolf - umbrella species
Howling Red Wolf| Photo by Darren Welsh

Red wolves may appear to be simply typical wild animals, but they are essential to their environment. 

Red wolves significantly impact the community and animals in the Albemarle Peninsula area, from harmonizing the habitat to attracting tourists. 

The red wolf is a deep historical icon of geography and culture on the North American continent, and there is no substitute for it. 

Because they are an “umbrella species,” they improve the ecological health of the regions they reside. Red wolves are critical elements of their natural vegetation.

They contribute to the genetic integrity and diversification of several diverse plants and animals by hunting old or frail prey. 

The plundering of vegetation ensures that greens are consumed in moderation, and any residual prey remnants can enrich the earth.

To Wrap Up

Umbrella species and Endemic species are critical when determining and evaluating possible nature reserves, such as national parks, sanctuaries, and other protected regions. 

Because our environments are rapidly changing, umbrella species can be used as a biological method to access and evaluate the sustainability of an ecosystem, its makeup, and how to maintain it.

Humans have been altering the ecology in many ways for several years. In modern times, however, we have started to recognize the harmful effects of our behaviors and have started to develop specific approaches. After all, humans can only survive if the entire ecosystem is healthy.

(Last Updated on January 26, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Shradha Bhatta holds a Bachelors’s Degree in Social Work along with a Post-graduate degree in Project Management from Georgian College in Canada. Shradha enjoys writing on a variety of topics and takes pleasure in discovering new ideas. She likes traveling and spending time with nature. She is a very people-person who loves talking about climate change and alerting people to go green!