Wolves and polar bears are great, but so are bats, fish, plants and invertebrates (among others worthy of our attention).

beyond megafauna bats mussels butterfly plants fish

There’s a phrase that describes species like polar bears, wolves, gorillas and giant pandas: “charismatic megafauna.”

There’s nothing wrong with being a large, good-looking species, but charisma can often come with a price. For one thing, all the species I just listed are endangered — many of them in no small part to their attractiveness.

Perhaps more importantly, though, humans — including journalists — can sometimes give these charismatic species a bit too much of the spotlight. That leaves a lot of other species on the sidelines. What about snails, bats, snakes, fish, mussels, insects and even plants? Do they get the attention they need from people? Or do they get left behind by the conservation community? Beyond that, what can we do to give these species more focus, and why do they deserve the effort?

To help address these questions, I gathered an all-star team of experts for a panel discussion called “Beyond Megafauna,” which took place in Pittsburgh last month at the annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists. Joining me on the panel were wildlife journalist Jason Bittel; Tierra Curry, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity (publishers of The Revelator); and Justin Wheeler, communications specialist with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

You can hear the whole conversation — including some great questions from the journalists in the audience — below:


John R. Platt

is the editor of The Revelator. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in Scientific American, Audubon, Motherboard, and numerous other magazines and publications. His “Extinction Countdown” column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. John lives on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., where he finds himself surrounded by animals and cartoonists.

3 thoughts on “Looking Beyond the Charismatic Megafauna”

  1. Good points. However it is important to emphasize that management actions aimed at protecting charismatic megafauna usually also benefit a myriad of other, less publicy-loved species and their environments. The use of flagship species in conservation initiatives is thus fully justified from a practical viewpoint.

      1. It’s mentioned during the interview that protections for seemingly obscure species also help protect other species, water and land.

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