Syngnathids (Pisces, Syngnathidae: seahorses and pipefish) were investigated for their use as a flagship group to evaluate the conservation value of estuarine seagrass beds in estuaries in south-east Australia. Some species of syngnathids are listed internationally as vulnerable or endangered, and they are a charismatic group of fish that attracts a high level of public support and sympathy. Syngnathids are also protected in several states of Australia. Conservation of syngnathids might provide coincidental benefits to other species that share their habitats. The effectiveness of syngnathids as a flagship group was assessed by (1) testing for correlations with other fish in species richness, density, assemblage variation, and summed irreplaceability value, and (2) determining the number of species of all other fish coincidentally captured in marine protected areas (MPAs) selected for syngnathids. The study was undertaken in a single estuary (scale: tens of square kilometres) and across multiple estuaries (scale: hundreds of square kilometres). Densities of syngnathids and other fish were correlated only at the scale of multiple estuaries. Species richness and summed irreplaceability of syngnathids and other fish were not spatially correlated. Spatial variations in assemblages of syngnathids and other fish were correlated. MPAs selected for syngnathids included more non-syngnathid species than a random selection of locations. This study provides evidence that ranking the conservation value of seagrass beds on the basis of the density and assemblage variation of syngnathids, and selecting MPAs to represent syngnathid species, will simultaneously benefit other fish. Synganthids are therefore regarded as a useful flagship group for conservation planning.
Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems Vol. 19, Issue 5, p. 588-595