As it is now, “flagship” species are either mammals, or birds. However, it is possible to make a “flagship” species out of an originally unnoticed, unattractive, humble species that does not belong to either of the aforementioned taxonomic groups; this possibility should certainly be further exploited in the frame of Life projects. The above can be done, if the characteristics that make the given species ‘special’ can be determined and publicized intensively, if the importance of the survival of the species for the protection of its environment can be stressed and if the feeling of ownership by the locals of a unique species that has to be protected can be established (e.g., in the case of endemics). It was done, quite successfully, with a small, gray, freshwater fish, endemic to Rhodes Island, Greece (http://www.life-gizani.gr/
). Why not try with an arthropod or a mollusc? It may worth it.
Still, to my view, biodiversity conservation should be aiming (as far as possible) at the whole aggregation of organisms that live in a specific habitat, with a bottom-up approach, namely starting from microbes and ending to vertebrates and not vice versa. The approach that says “by protecting a “flagship” species we protect all species” doesn’t seem to have worked so well so far or at least it doesn’t seem to be working in all cases, although it may be serving the funding needs of several of us (Life beneficiaries that is) pretty well. However, to be able to use a more holistic approach in protecting the biodiversity of an ecosystem, we need to know its structure and function in depth. For the latter, more research is needed (as in most cases we do not have this knowledge) and certainly closer cooperation between researchers and conservation practitioners is absolutely necessary, as mentioned by Jan Sliva above. A step is being taken in this direction in the new LIFE+ call (as Angelo Salsi mentions), let’s hope it will work and more steps will follow.
A last issue that I would like to raise here is that except from the ‘visible’ and the ‘less visible’ aspects of biodiversity there is also an ‘invisible’ aspect of it, which is genetic diversity. There seems to be no concern/action for conserving different ‘evolutionary significant units’ (ESUs), although this could be of great importance for a series of reasons (please see http://www.epbrs.org/PDF/Evolution%20and%20Biodiversity_shortversion_final.pdf
). I would very much like to see this topic discussed in the first place and taken into account in the future Life+ calls.