Increased information and marketing to specific individuals could shift conservation support to less popular species
Flagship species are widely used in conservation to raise awareness and funds, and recent observational research suggests that less popular species can be marketed to increase support for their conservation. Using two species groups, sharks and dolphins, this paper experimentally investigates whether stated conservation preferences can shift from more charismatic species to those not typically considered as flagship species. Although universal appeal is considered a desirable trait for flagship species, there are individual differences in preferences for species. Therefore, this paper also investigates the role of individual demographic and attitudinal differences on choices, as these may impact the success of conservation marketing. Using discrete choice experiments, six forced choice sets of two species were presented to 168 participants, with species shown and the amount of information presented about each one varied. Demographic differences between participants was found to affect donating behavior: individuals with more positive attitudes to sharks were more likely to donate to shark conservation, as are individuals with a biology background. However, it was found that individual choices can also be shifted through the provision of additional information. Participants chose to conserve species with more information, whether the two species in the choice set were both sharks, both dolphins, or a shark and a dolphin. When equal amounts of information were provided about two species, potential donors preferred the more endangered species. This research suggests that by selecting appropriate populations to target for marketing, even less charismatic species can be used as flagship species and attract potential donors.