Shared ecological knowledge about the impacts of biological invasions can facilitate the collective action necessary to achieve desired management outcomes. Since its introduction to an island archipelago in South America, the North American beaver has caused major changes to the ecosystem. We examined landowners’ mental models of how beavers impact ecosystem services in riparian areas to understand the potential to implement a large-scale eradication program. We used ethno- graphic interviews to characterize individual landowners’ perceptions about beaver-caused changes to ecosystems and landowners’ wellbeing, and examined the degree to which they are shared. While the eradication initiative focuses on ecosystem integrity, landowners considered impacts on provisioning ser- vices to be most salient. Landowners did not have a highly shared causal model of beaver impacts, which indicates a diverse knowledge system. This lack of consensus on how beavers impact riparian areas provides some optimism for garnering support for eradication, and also offers insights into challenges with mental modeling methodologies.
Balancing development and biodiversity conservation presents significant challenges. One approach, biodiversity offsetting, represents “measurable conservation outcomes resulting from actions designed to compensate for significant residual adverse biodiversity impacts resulting from project development” and is a final step in a mitigation hierarchy following steps of avoidance, minimization, rehabilitation, and restoration. In the journal Conservation Biology, Josh Donlan and colleagues at Island Conservation recently presented an argument for the potential for biodiversity offsetting to fund invasive species eradications on islands. Islands have disproportionately higher levels of biodiversity, threatened species, and extinctions than mainlands.
Targeting human-inhabited islands for invasive species eradication campaigns layers social complexity on top of technical complexity. Attaining widespread support and cooperation for eradications requires programs designed to meet diverse stakeholder needs. The Tierra del Fuego archipelago serves as an informative case study and model for understanding and incorporating private landowner preferences into a proposed eradication program. We employed a human-centered approach to characterize landowner perceptions, preferences, and potential support for a large-scale initiative to eradicate the invasive North American beaver (Castor canadensis) from Tierra del Fuego. We used a factorial vignette survey to understand how attributes of an eradication program are related landowners' decisions to participate. Landowners rated four programs that randomly varied by contract length, required level of landowner involvement, institutional administrator, payment, social norms, and probability of a successful eradication. Landowners in Tierra del Fuego were generally more willing to participate under three conditions: (1) increased payments, (2) increased expectations of program success, and (3) low requirements for landowner involvement. Our results suggest that incorporating feedbacks into program design can increase public support, and that landowners in Tierra del Fuego may not express the same preference for autonomy that exists in other regions of the world. Understanding and incorporating stakeholder preferences, perceptions, and beliefs into management strategies is an ongoing challenge for conservation practitioners worldwide. The vignette survey approach provides a cost-effective, rapid, and scalable tool to document and incorporate local values into conservation program design. Programs built using a human-centered approach will complement landowners’ land-use objectives, increase cooperation, and ultimately improve conservation outcomes.