Umbrella potential of plants and dragonflies for wetland conservation: a quantitative case study using the umbrella index


Present address and correspondence: Jason T. Bried, The Nature Conservancy Eastern New York Conservation Office and Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission, 195 New Karner Road, Albany, NY 12205–4605, USA (fax +518 456 8198; e-mail


  • 1Shortcuts to measuring biodiversity enable prioritization of conservation effort in the face of limited time, personnel and funding. The conservation umbrella approach focuses management effort according to individual species that may confer protection to a larger community. This approach can help guide the management agenda towards attainable goals by maximizing conservation returns per unit effort. The development of the umbrella index has shown promise in identifying umbrella species in terrestrial ecosystems but has received little attention with respect to the management of wetland ecosystems.
  • 2We used the umbrella index to assess the umbrella potential of vascular plants and dragonflies (Odonata) from 15 wetland impoundments in northern Mississippi, USA. The presence of adult odonates was determined by repeated visual surveys and plant lists were compiled from 50 plots per site.
  • 3Umbrella schemes, or the sites occupied by top umbrella species, missed large numbers of beneficiary species and occurrences. With one exception, umbrella schemes failed to optimize conservation returns relative to randomized schemes in both assemblages. Also, umbrella schemes approximately equalled the performance of non-umbrella schemes both overall and for species with a low rate of occurrence. Low occurrence rates in both assemblages may have hindered umbrella index performance because the index assumes that species with moderate occurrence rates have the most umbrella potential.
  • 4Cross-taxon analyses (Mantel tests and McNemar tests) suggested transferability of plant and dragonfly umbrella schemes, and non-random association between the plants and dragonflies in these wetlands.
  • 5Synthesis and applications. Despite the questionable performance of umbrella schemes in our study, the use of a quantitative ecological tool such as the umbrella index instead of political or popularity criteria is strongly recommended for future selection of umbrella species. The results of cross-taxon analyses supported growing evidence for spatial and functional relationships between wetland macrophytes and adult odonates. We suggest that the more easily measured assemblage can be used to set priorities for wetland conservation planning in circumstances where human resources are constrained.