Conservation organisations and governments often use charismatic megafauna as surrogates to represent broader biodiversity. While these species are primarily selected as “flagships” for marketing campaigns, it is important to evaluate their surrogacy potential, i.e., the extent to which their protection benefits other biodiversity elements. Four charismatic megafauna species are used as surrogates in the megadiverse island of Sumatra: the Sumatran tiger Panthera tigris sumatrae, Sumatran elephant Elephas maximus sumatranus, Sumatran orangutan Pongo abelii and Sumatran rhinoceros Dicerorhinus sumatrensis. We examined how well each of these species performed in representing the distribution of all co‐occurring terrestrial mammal species on the island, and the priority areas for the conservation of three facets of mammalian biodiversity (taxonomic, phylogenetic and functional).
We used habitat suitability models to represent the distribution of 184 terrestrial mammal species, 160 phylogenetic groups and 74 functional trait groups. We then identified priority conservation areas using the spatial prioritisation software Zonation.
We found that the habitat overlaps between each of the four charismatic species and the other mammal species varied, ranging from a mean of 52% (SD = 27%) for the tiger to 2% (SD = 2%) for the rhino. Combining the four species together only improved the representation levels marginally compared to only using the tiger. Among the four charismatic megafauna species, the extent of suitable habitat of Sumatran tiger covered the highest proportion of priority conservation areas. The Sumatran tiger also outperformed most of other mammal species with similar range sizes.
We found that some of the top‐ranked conservation areas for taxonomic (28%), phylogenetic (8%) and functional diversity (19%) did not overlap with any of the charismatic species’ suitable habitat.
Synthesis and applications. Wide‐ranging charismatic species can represent broader mammalian biodiversity, but they may miss some key areas with high biodiversity importance. We suggest that a combination of systematic spatial prioritisation and surrogacy analyses are important in order to determine the allocation of conservation resources in biodiversity‐rich areas such as Sumatra, where an expansion of the protected area network is required.