Umbrella and Keystone Species
Date: Summer 2010
Can an umbrella species be a keystone species, or a
keystone species be an umbrella species?
A keystone species is one that plays a critical role in maintaining
the structure of the ecosystem around them. An umbrella species. An
umbrella species is one that conservations use to gain support to
conserve that species, and in return it greatly helps the other
species around it (those under the umbrella!). So, yes, they can be
both. For instance, the lemurs of Madagascar are a keystone species
(their feces excrete plant seeds which need to go through their
digestive system to germinate) yet are also a umbrella species (if
people work to save the habitat of Madagascar in order to save the
lemurs, they are also saving many other species at the same time).
Sometimes we also use the term "flagship" species. This is just a way
of saying that we put the face of one animal (the lemur for instance)
out to the public, even if they aren't the ones facing the biggest
threat, in order that by saving habitat it will affect all the others
The answer to your question is yes, so let’s begin with some definitions.
The term ‘umbrella species’ is most commonly used by conservationists
discussing a species selected for making conservation decisions. An
umbrella species generally shares a lot of living requirements with
other organisms in its range – therefore making its preservation
beneficial to many species. Meanwhile, a keystone species more specifically
refers to a species that dramatically shifts an ecosystem if it were removed,
even though that species may be only a small portion of the ecosystem.
Yes, in some cases it is possible for an umbrella species to be a keystone
species and vice-versa. An example of this is the American Grizzly Bear. The
Grizzly is a keystone species since its dispersal of nutrients from the ocean
ecosystem (mainly of fish) to forest ecosystem plays an important role in
that environment. Grizzlies are also classified as umbrella species since
they have a relatively large range and are of the higher mammals. The
preservation of this species would benefit other northern mammal species,
and ultimately the whole ecosystem. Many conservation efforts have been
directed towards the Grizzly Bear for both its standing as a keystone and
an umbrella species.
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Update: June 2012