Tackling invasive species by engaging people

Macro image of an ant on a stalk

Australia has more than 400 invasive weeds, diseases, insects and animals, which cause social, economic and environmental harm

According to the Australian 2011 State of the Environment Report, the impact of established invasive species on inland waters is ‘high’ and conditions are deteriorating, and the impact is ‘high’ to ‘very high’ for biodiversity.
Australian government policies have emphasised the need for citizens to take responsibility. 
However, this requires the right incentives, skills 
and resources to take action, and a lot of sustained, coordinated work.

UNE has been involved in addressing the human aspects of invasive species management for many years. In the most recent initiative, director of UNE’s Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law, Professor Paul Martin is leading a team of researchers to develop best practices for engaging and supporting citizens to manage pests.

“UNE has an established history in informing environmental and agricultural policy, but the exciting new territory we are exploring now involves a mix 
of diverse disciplines, taking an holistic approach,” Professor Martin says.

The exciting new territory we are now exploring involves a mix of diverse disciplines, taking a holistic approach.”

Integrating environmental science with advanced knowledge about laws and institutions, society, economics and psychology, UNE is bringing advanced “human science” to invasive species management. This work asks such questions as “how can we efficiently and reliably detect new incursions of fire ants?” or “what messages, communicated in what ways, will make it more likely for farmers to control weeds or feral animals?”

Paul martin

Professor Paul Martin

The research team is working with frontline partners in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia. Feedback and collaboration with these partners help design and implement sophisticated strategies to control domestic pets, communicate messages about better management, secure region- wide cooperation in control programs, and use information technology more effectively.

Whilst better technologies and management methods are essential, success in managing these problems is inevitably a matter of changing behaviour. That’s why UNE, under the direction of Professor Oscar Cacho and Dr Hester from the Australian Centre of Excellence for Risk Analysis, are pioneering advanced economic analysis to improve community detection of new invasive species.

This work illustrates the increasing integration between economics and behavioural science, which is at the forefront of informing policy. Concepts like “nudge theory” and “behavioural economics” operate at this intersection, reflecting a strong platform of biophysical and policy science for the control of invasive species.

Effectiveness requires that landholders are quick to identify and take action on new invasions, that they work in a coordinated way across the landscape,
and that they use (sometimes quite difficult) best management practices. UNE’s researchers are helping to create this responsiveness.

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