CNH: Social-Ecological Dynamics of Aquatic Species Invasions on a Lake-Rich Landscape

The effect of public policy on ecosystem services is complex, not only for the obvious reason that ecosystems are complex, but also because a policy's effect is filtered by the private decisions of individuals and households, often with unintended ecological consequences. An important example is public policy to control aquatic species invasions, which are often a major threat to native species and biodiversity, and consequently to the social value of aquatic ecosystems. This project investigates how policy interventions intended to control or prevent harmful aquatic species invasions affect the decisions and economic welfare of individuals using the aquatic system, and consequently the spatial dynamics of invasions. This question will be addressed for aquatic invasive species (AIS) now present in the lake district of northern Wisconsin, such as Eurasian water-milfoil, rusty crayfish, and zebra mussel. The analysis uses a variety of new data and methods, including an econometric model of boater behavior estimated with data from a two-year, web-based survey of boaters, novel experiments and analyses concerning propagule uptake by boats leaving infected lakes and propagule survival during transport, and a statistical model of the lake characteristics affecting propagule establishment and colonization.

As well as advancing understanding of aquatic species invasions, results will generally inform human-environment studies through the development of innovative models that incorporate uncertainties in human behaviors. On a practical level, the project will have broad impacts via its insights into basic management questions about AIS. For example, historically, management resources have been directed primarily towards invasive species control, possibly because of the political economy of invasions. But in reality, the appropriate management action is likely to be a mix of control and prevention; and methods falling into each of these categories need further investigation. Multiple graduate students and undergraduates will be trained and mentored in this interdisciplinary research project. Project personnel will work in Wisconsin with the North Temperate Lakes Long-Term Ecological Research site's Schoolyard program to educate K-12 teachers and students about the ecology and economics of such invasions.

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