The demise of the golden toad and the creation of a climatic change icon species

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 scientifi c 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 fl agship species that has been frequently portrayed as the fi rst verifi ed 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 refl ect a perceived need to supply tangible evidence of biodiversity consequences arising from climate change and highlights the challenges facing conservation scientists in communicating scientifi c concerns and uncertainty via the media.