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Julie Cook Kitchener Apr 22, 2024 12:46 pm
Hi all,
Public awareness campaigns are often applied to mitigate the negative impacts that invasive species have on healthy ecosystems. However, there is little evidence suggesting that these campaigns are effective with respect to environmental outcomes. A literature review from Cambridge University researchers was conducted recently to assess the efficacy of 24 public awareness campaigns in managing invasive species. Four of them were deemed a success and the others were indeterminable due to the way the studies were designed. One of the main problems in determining success of these campaigns was that nearly all of the program managers (23 of them) measured only changes in knowledge and behaviour, and not relevant biological outcomes (i.e. a change in the biological mass of the invasive species). Another problem relates to the assumption that changes in knowledge will translate to changes in behaviour. The article’s authors focus on three case studies to illustrate these points. I will describe one of them below.
An educational comic to assess gardeners’ knowledge and intentions re: invasive plant species in Australia
Researchers in Australia distributed a survey to gardeners in two forms: one with an educational comic that warned about invasive plants escaping from gardens (treatment group) and another survey that did not include the comic (control group). Although the comic had a positive influence on self-reported intentions (e.g. respondents saying they would be more likely to purchase native plants over non-native plants in the future), it was also found that those same respondents didn’t see how their gardening behaviours could impact the environment. When shown the statement ‘My garden choices do not affect the environment’, one third of those who received the comic still agreed. According to the researchers, “even among individuals who were conscious of the impacts of invasive species and supportive of control efforts (i.e. those we would expect to know the most), there was a lack of understanding regarding how invasive plants spread and how people’s choices can impact this spread.” 
Public awareness campaigns are frequently applied by governments and academics to address a range of environmental issues. These types of campaigns can impact attitudes and implementation intentions, but there is little evidence to suggest that they positively impact behaviour, let alone influencing an environmental outcome like the reduction of biomass in a particular invasive species. This is especially true with the problem of invasive species, where the knowledge needed is complex and the desired behaviours are diverse (e.g. from purchasing native plants to washing boat propellors). The only way a public awareness campaign will be successful at changing behaviour is when knowledge is the only significant barrier preventing people from taking action. Usually this is not the case. 

There are other invasive species case studies from the U.S. and Canada in the research study that you might find interesting. To read the full open access article, click here