The Big Dry Arm Spring Storm in the Great Basin Red Cliffs Desert Tortoise Reserve March Morning on the Platte River After a Spring Storm in the Great Basin Hunting Upland Birds at Kingsbury Lake Waterfowl Production Area Sandhill Migration on the Platte River Badlands Sunrise The Green River at Ouray NWR North Park Lupines Moab Sunset
Science - Surrogate Species
Mountain-Prairie Region
Graphic button showing the 8 state mountain prairie region

About Surrogate Species

What are Surrogate Species?

Photo of a Black-footed Ferret. Credit: J. Michael Lockhart/USFWS

"Surrogate species" are subsets of species which are “representative” of multiple species or aspects of the environment. These include umbrella, focal, keystone, indicator, and flagship species.

Surrogate species is a commonly-used scientific term for system-based conservation planning that uses a species as an indicator of landscape habitat and system conditions. Surrogate species are used for comprehensive conservation planning that supports multiple species and habitats within a defined landscape or geographic area.

The 21st Century Conservation Vision »

The 21st Century Conservation Vision

SHC Elements: Biological Planning, Conservation Design, Delivery, Monitoring, and Research. Credit: USFWS. Despite all our hard work and past achievements, when it comes to keeping pace with 21st-Century conservation threats we have lots of local successes but not at a scale that is changing the course of conservation. The overall condition of natural systems – and the many species of fish and wildlife that inhabit them – is declining.

To effectively address landscape-scale challenges like habitat degradation, encroaching development, climate change, and loss of biodiversity, we must shift from a site-specific or single-species approach to a more integrated and complex landscape-scale model – one that accounts for the complexity and interrelated nature of ecosystems. It means applying the best available science and technology to address the conservation challenges we face.

Working in collaboration with partners on science-based landscape-scale conservation (including planning, on-the-ground protection, restoration, management of species and habitats, monitoring, public engagement, research, etc.) – will help the Service make smarter, more cost-effective conservation investments. It will also improve our ability to ensure landscapes capable of supporting self-sustaining populations of fish and wildlife while providing for the needs of people – now and in the future.

Leading change now will leave a lasting wildlife legacy for future generations. In the face of unprecedented challenges, the Service is more determined than ever to do all it can to conserve wild places and wildlife for the benefit of our children and grandchildren. When it comes to conserving the species and habitats that are our passion and our life’s work, we are unwilling to accept the status quo. We want to do our best to conserve America’s fish, wildlife and plants for future generations. With your participation and commitment, and with the help of our conservation partners, we can build a conservation legacy made to last.

State-Federal Framework »

State-Federal Framework

Map of LCCs

•  The Service and States will work together to decide the initial pool of species to be represented and the initial pool of surrogates.

•  The Service will not select State trust species as surrogates without concurrence from the State(s) involved.

•  The initial scale for selection of surrogate species could be within the geographic boundaries of LCCs.

•  The Service and States will work together to coordinate across all administrative boundaries.

•  If a State agrees to a State trust species as a possible surrogate, the surrogate population objective will be identical to the State population objective.

•  If no population objectives exist for federal trust species, the Service will develop population objectives in a consistent and coordinated manner with the affected State(s).

•  The Service and the States will jointly decide the monitoring, data management, and reporting protocols necessary for surrogate species.

•  The Service and States may reach out to and use LCCs or other sources for scientific expertise on issues like scale, best species as surrogates, development of robust monitoring protocols, etc. This input may inform the ultimate decisions made by the States and the Service.

•  LCCs do not select Surrogate Species.

Surrogate Species Version 1.0 »

Surrogate Species Version 1.0

Version 1.0 will consist of the identification of a least one geography to develop a surrogate species approach together with the relevant state(s); including:

•  A description of the identified landscape, explicit geography, key ecological features (habitat types, aquatic systems, etc.).

•  List of all species occurring in the landscape that have been designated by the Service or a state fish and wildlife agency as a species of management interest.

•  Preliminary or potential surrogate species under consideration in that landscape. Status of existing population objective(s) for the preliminary surrogate(s) and status of ongoing discussions about developing objectives.

•  Federal trust species thought to be represented by the preliminary surrogate(s).

Sage Grouse Photo. Credit: USFWS•  State trust species thought to be represented by the preliminary surrogates.

•  Other Federal species not represented that may require individual attention.

•  Status of knowledge about known or assumed limiting factors, including both the stressor(s) and proximate sources of stress.

•  Any existing or emerging conservation strategies and targets needed to alleviate crucial limiting factors, including explicit SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely) objectives.

Surrogate Species Updated TimeLine »

Updated TimeLine

Image of a mountain meadow. Credit: USFWS

•  Final Version 1.0 Guidance released August, 2013.

•  List of all species occurring in the landscape that have been designated by the Service or a state fish and wildlife agency as a species of management interest.

•  A Revision Team,  made up of technical staff from both FWS and representatives of AFWA Regional organizations, will use the comments and suggestions submitted through last March to develop a final draft of the technical guidance for identifying and selecting surrogate species.

•  The new draft will be ready for review and comment Fall of 2013.

•  Independent Peer Review will commence late Fall of 2013.

•  Regional Version 1.0 completed December 31, 2013.


•  View the Draft Technical Guidance
•  The Surrogate Species Approach
•  Frequently Asked Questions
•  Surrogate Species Guidance
•  Montana Example
•  Prairie Pothole Example

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: July 26, 2019
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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