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Conservation efforts often focus on umbrella species whose distributions overlap with many other flora and fauna. However, because biodiversity is affected by different threats that are spatially variable, focusing only on the geographic range overlap of species may not be sufficient in allocating the necessary actions needed to efficiently abate threats. We developed a problem-based method for prioritizing conservation actions for umbrella species that maximizes the total number of flora and fauna benefiting from management while considering threats, actions, and costs. We tested our new method by assessing the performance of the Australian federal government’s umbrella prioritization list, which identifies 73 umbrella species as priorities for conservation attention. Our results show that the federal government priority list benefits only 6% of all Australia’s threatened terrestrial species. This could be increased to benefit nearly half (or 46%) of all threatened terrestrial species for the same budget of AU$550 million/year if more suitable umbrella species were chosen. This results in a 7-fold increase in management efficiency. We believe nations around the world can markedly improve the selection of prioritized umbrella species for conservation action with this transparent, quantitative, and objective prioritization approach.

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