Invasive species — non-native plants and animals introduced to ecosystems outside of their own — can devastate local ecosystems. By upsetting the balance of individual regions, they can quickly explode in numbers and overwhelm native species. According to a new article from the Ecological Society of America, the worst offenders may be fueled by a particularly potent characteristic: positive public perception.
The opinion piece, published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, suggests that charismatic critters may be more difficult to manage effectively due to the public’s adoration of them. While many invasive species negatively impact humans as well as their local ecosystems, others — such as free-roaming horses — may negatively impact ecosystems without directly affecting humans in the area. If the species happens to be viewed positively among humans — perhaps due to associations with their native versions — management efforts can become very difficult very quickly. In some cases, local people may actively attempt to thwart management efforts.
“Take the ring-necked parakeet (Psittacula krameri) for example. The pet trade has led to an established population of parakeets in Europe, far outside the species’ native range. Even though parakeets can transmit diseases to native birds, compete with them for nesting cavities, and are recognized as a crop pest, the public enjoys seeing them in parks, gardens, and homes. Introduced parakeets tend to be released in cities, but the parakeets actually exact the most damage in rural areas. But because people have grown used to them, they are likely to oppose eradication efforts that take place before the birds become an established nuisance.”
— The Ecological Society of America
While the Ecological Society of America does not offer any firm solutions to the challenges to management posed by charismatic species, they suggest that communication between wildlife managers, researchers, and the general public will likely be key.