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Iconic Species

Species revered as emblematic or charismatic (e.g. whales, dugongs, koalas, platypus, echidnas, wattles, bunya pine, bottle trees, macadamia, cattle).


Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Service Category

Cultural Services


What are iconic species and how are they derived?

Many unique Australian species found in SEQ are not only valued locally, but nationally and internationally.

Iconic species provide an easily recognisable, if not always accesible means of entering into a relationship with a particular place and/or of focusing conservation or land management efforts. Iconic species can be those that have played an important part in the history or economy of people, species that are charismatic and recognisable, or species that in other ways capture the imagination of the public. Often, iconic species provide a concrete subject upon which to hang aspirations or concerns regarding environment and broader social issues. This identity may be local, regional or nationally important, and may have different meanings to different people. To the conservation sector, iconic species provide a means of engaging the broader public in conservation issues.

To those whose livelihoods depend on the tourism sector, iconic speces provide the attraction which draw tourists to certain areas. The role of iconic species in ecotourism also helps to attribute a dollar value to these species and the environments that they live in, which also can contribute towards greater respect and care for the environment. To primary producers, iconic species maybe the mainstay of their industry (e.g. macadamia, kangaroos, cattle). Iconic species are a subset of biodiversity. They may be found in terrestrial, marine or aquatic habitats.

Table 1 presents the magnitude different ecosystem functions (relative to other ecosystem functions) contribute to providing species that may be revered as iconic. Supporting habitats provide the shelter and nutrition for iconic species to live, grow and reproduce. Maintaining corridors and connectivity between habitats is vital to maintaining genetic resources, which in turn reduces inbreeding and disease within iconic species.

Functions such as climate and water regulation play a vital role in determining the area and extent of vegetation and corals in terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Specific plants and corals may become iconic species themselves or play a structural role in ecosystems which support iconic species. Many species may rely on seasonal (and other) changes in climate and water for pollination, breeding or reproduction.

Many regulating functions such as gas regulation, disturbance regulation, nutrient regulation, waste treatment and assimilation, pollination, biological control and barrier effect of vegetation have a strong indirect relationship with iconic species through maintaining the resilience of ecosystems and therefore the habitats for species to survive. Provisioning functions such as food, raw materials, shade and shelter and pharmacological resources provide nutrition, materials for nesting and shelter from the elements. Iconic species may provide direct contributions to and/or a role in ehancing ecosystems (e.g. pioneer or key stone species). Iconic species (like all species) can provide benefits including all of those benefits that derive from healthy, productive and resilient ecosystems.


Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem functions) each ecosystem function contributes to Iconic Species.

Ecosystem Function Category Ecosystem Function 0
Regulating Functions
Gas Regulation

Climate Regulation

Disturbance Regulation

Water Regulation

Soil Retention

Nutrient Regulation

Waste Treatment and Assimilation


Biological Control

Barrier Effect of Vegetation

Supporting Functions
Supporting Habitats

Soil Formation

Provisioning Functions

Raw Materials

Water Supply

Genetic Resources

Provision of Shade and Shelter

Pharmacological Resources

Cultural Functions
Landscape Opportunity



Brisbane Golden Wattle (Acacia fimbriata) is an iconic plant to SEQ.

The Scribbly Gum is an icon of the Australian 'bush'.

Ecosystem diversity provides for a large range of species that do not require any human inputs to facilitate their growth or reproduction. Which species become 'iconic' will vary across the landscape and depends on many factors such as cultural, spiritual and religious values; an individuals sense of place; and/or other connections and values with the environment and society. Marketing of particular species (e.g. the use of animal species as sporting logos and the promotion of species by conservation groups) can also influence the communities relationship with particular species and raise a species to an iconic status.

To continue the production of iconic species in natural ecosystems, human inputs required to facilitate this service include protection of the habitats and ecosystems occupied by these iconic species. Depending on the condition of the ecosystem, these ecosystems may also require further intervention for a period of time (e.g. fencing, weeding). In some cases, such as plants, a focus might be on the protection of individual specimens. For animals, this protection always requires protection of the habitat as well as individuals of that species. For iconic species housed in cultivated ecosystems, these species requre much more intensive human management of their surroundings (e.g. provision of food, water, shelter, physical barriers).  


Are there any barriers to people receiving this ecosystem service and its benefits?

Many iconic species are easily accessible, occuring as they do within close proximity and easy view of members of the public. For example bunya pines and wattles occur in cultivation. Other species such as dugongs and platypus require dedicated effort to see them. A lack of knowledge about where these species occur, how to find them and the need to go to special lengths to see them (e.g. going out at night with torches or out on boats) may act as a barrier to some people. The barriers to people receivng this service are knowledge, distance, access, the habits of species and socio-economic positions.

Often however, it is arguable whether people actually need to experience these species directly, or whether it is sufficient to know that they are out there. For example, to many international residents koalas are iconic to Australia but an individual may never come to Australia and see a koala. They may however be comforted or take pleasure in just knowing that koalas exist. This is often reffered to as an 'existence value'.

This ecosystem service provides many benefits that contribute both directly and indirectly to the well-being of the SEQ community. The Constituents of Well-being this ecosystem service contributes to are presented in Table 2 below. Further information on these constituents and how ecosystem services contribute to them can be obtained by clicking on the links in the table.

Table 2:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem services) Iconic Species contributes to each constituent of well-being.

Well-being Category Constituent of Well-being 0
Physical Health            
Mental Health            
Secure and Continuous Supply of Services            
Security of Person            
Security of Health            
Secure Access to Services            
Security of Property            
Good Social Relations
Family Cohesion            
Community and Social Cohesion            
Freedom of Choice and Action
Social and Economic Freedom            
Self Actualisation            


Dugongs, an iconic marine species found in Moreton Bay.

Links to other publications and websites

SEQC Priority Species and Habitats
Biodiversity Pannning Assessment
Wildlife Preservation Society of Qld
Qld Museum Mammals of SEQ
Worldbank Iconic Species



Declines in sightings or distribution of iconic species, and of the extant ecosystems indicate that the ecosystem service is declining. Please provide a brief explaination of the specific indicator? 


How is this ecosystem service currently managed in SEQ?

There is no specific piece of legislation aimed at the sustainable management of this ecosystem service. There is however numerous local, state and national laws aimed at sustainably managing biodiversity in general. Some of these include the Environmental Protection Act 1994, Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, Nature Conservation Act 1992, Vegetation Management Act 1999, a marine Acts ...., a freshwater Acts .....,.....

To compliment these Acts are numerous management plans and strategies for example, the SEQ Nature Conservation Strategy, Biodiversity Planning Assessment, local government planning schemes. For information on management of particular species people should contact their local council, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and/or local community groups. For information on seeing or interacting with iconic species the best point of contact is the local tourism bureau, your travel agent, Queensland Museum or Queensland Tourism.