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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 11  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 291-319

The Demise of the Golden Toad and the Creation of a Climate Change Icon Species

1 School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University Centre for the Environment, Oxford, UK
2 School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University Centre for the Environment, Oxford, UK; Institute of Biological Sciences and Health, Federal University of Alagoas, Maceio, Brazil

Correspondence Address:
Leticia M Ochoa-Ochoa
School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University Centre for the Environment, Oxford, UK

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.121034

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There is an unavoidable degree of uncertainty associated with future climate projections, and even more unpredictability about the potential impact of different climate scenarios on the ecology and distribution of organisms. Conservationists face a major public communications challenge to both raise awareness and mobilise support for conservation and climate change mitigation/adaptation policies while realistically representing complex and uncertain scientific information. Here, we illustrate the interplay of these competing communication goals through a review of the representations of the golden toad in the print media and peer-reviewed literature (in English and Spanish). Since its disappearance in 1989 the toad has become an important conservation flagship species that has been frequently portrayed as the first verified extinction attributable to global warming. Moreover, there was an increase in the certainty of published news items regarding the toad and its demise, especially in the late 1990s. The uncertainty surrounding the toad's disappearance (apparent in the primary research literature) was poorly represented in the popular press. The transformation of the toad into an iconic species for climate change advocacy may reflect a perceived need to supply tangible evidence of biodiversity consequences arising from climate change and highlights the challenges facing conservation scientists in communicating scientific concerns and uncertainty via the media.

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