Context. The concept of umbrella species has been proposed as a surrogate for the conservation of a wider range of species and ecosystems. This concept has, however, frequently been questioned by researchers because of the lack of empirical evidence to support it.
Aims. The aim of the present study was to test the role of the spectacled bear, Tremarctos ornatus (FG Cuvier, 1825), also known as Andean bear, as a putative umbrella species for the 12 Andean ecoregions it inhabits.
Methods. The number of threatened vertebrates, as well as the total number of vertebrate species (mammals and birds) existing in areas where the spectacled bear is present (distribution range) and absent, were compared within each ecoregion to assess the role of spectacled bear as an umbrella species, using geographical information systems.
Key results. In absolute terms, the spectacled bear could be considered an umbrella species, because 20.6% of the area of the 12 ecoregions was covered by the bear’s distribution range, and the total numbers of both vertebrate species richness and threatened species were higher in areas where the bears were present than in those where they were absent. However, the results showed that the differences with regard to the number of species in areas in which the bears were present and absent depended on the ecoregion and the targeted taxa.
Conclusions. These results suggest that the effectiveness of the spectacled bear as an umbrella species is not widespread, because conserving the areas in which bears are present may not always equate to greater conservation benefits (higher species richness) in all the ecoregions for all the taxa.
Implications. If spectacled bear is used as an umbrella species, it is necessary to consider both the ecoregions and the targeted taxa whose conservation would be improved as a result of the preservation of the spectacled bear’s distribution range.