Biological Conservation 242 (2020) 108416
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Biological Conservation journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/biocon
Diverse public perceptions of species' status and management align with conflicting conservation frameworks
Lily M. van Eedena,b, , Thomas M. Newsomea, Mathew S. Crowthera, Christopher R. Dickmana, Jeremy Bruskotterc ⁎
School of Life and Environmental Sciences, The University of Sydney, Heydon-Laurence Building A08, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA c The School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, 210 Kottman Hall, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210, USA b
Keywords: Conservation ethics Invasive species Pest control Potential for conflict index, public attitudes
Justification for lethal control in conservation is often presumed to be shaped by human attitudes toward different species and whether these species are regarded as native or introduced to a particular system. Conservation researchers and practitioners attitudes often differ in this regard, so different conservation frameworks have evolved such as traditional compositionalist conservation, ‘new’ functionalist conservation, and compassionate conservation. Yet, there is limited research on how the public perceives and values native versus introduced species and thus how public perceptions align with these different and somewhat conflicting definitions of conservation. We conducted an online public survey (N = 811) in Australia to explore how perceptions of species are related to each other and to the approval of lethal control. We focused on native kangaroos, the long-established dingo, and more recently introduced red foxes and wild horses. Perceptions of species' ‘nativeness’ varied and did not always align with policy definitions or reality, with 18.4% and 17.9% considering horses and foxes, respectively, to be native to Australia. The perception that a species was not native and was a pest were linked, and correlated positively with approval for lethal control. The results reveal the conflicting perceptions of conservation among conservationists, the public, and policy definitions. This highlights the difficulty of developing a set of agreed upon conservation goals which would help promote conservation practices supported by stakeholder values.
1. Introduction Conservation biology is built on a set of contested and evolving normative assumptions and frameworks about what is valuable and desirable in the natural world (Callicott et al., 1999; Soulé, 1985; Wallach et al., 2018). Under some frameworks, not all species are regarded as worthy of conservation efforts; indeed, we often seek to control or eradicate one species to promote another (Vucetich and Nelson, 2007). Such approaches simplify environmental management decisions by effectively assigning species to ‘good’ or ‘bad’ categories which are often based on their perceived impact on human interests (Bremner and Park, 2007). Conservation actions also often seek to restore ecological systems to some former state, generally because these states are considered more ‘natural’ or because they possess other characteristics desirable to humans. But globalization, combined with environmental degradation, has resulted in species occupying places they otherwise would not, and these ‘animals [and other living things]
out of place’ are often targets of control campaigns (Knight, 2000: 14). Deciding which species are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ has thus become more complex, highlighting a need to better understand the primary motivations for undertaking management actions such as lethal control. Introduced species globally are blamed for extinctions, biodiversity loss, and degradation of ecosystems (Clavero and García-Berthou, 2005). In geographically isolated regions such as Australia, new species have arrived both as accidental hitchhikers and as intentional transplants. Australia now has the highest rate of native mammal extinction in the world, with the disappearance of > 30 species in the last 200 years - losses that are attributed in large part to predation by introduced carnivores (Woinarski et al., 2015). As such, millions of dollars are spent annually to control introduced species and protect remaining native biodiversity (Hoffman and Broadhurst, 2016). However, debates have emerged about the value and ethics of invasive species control programs (Larson, 2005; Vucetich and Nelson, 2007). Davis et al. (2011) exhorted us not to judge a species on its origin, arguing
Corresponding author at: Heydon-Laurence Building A08, The University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia. E-mail address: [email protected]
(L.M. van Eeden).
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108416 Received 9 January 2019; Received in revised form 2 June 2019; Accepted 6 January 2020 0006-3207/ © 2020 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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that narratives about ‘nativeness’ have caused us to hold unsubstantiated biases toward species regarded as ‘alien’ and some argue that we should move away from this native/non-native dichotomy and adopt a more fluid understanding of species and their place in ecosystems (see also Warren, 2007). This conflict of opinions illustrates that we cannot always agree on the goals and purposes of conservation, and thus several different conservation frameworks exist. For example, ‘traditional conservation’ frameworks seek to maintain ‘native’ ecosystems and species for their inherent value (Soulé, 1985). “Functionalist (or ‘new’) conservation” focuses on maintaining ecosystem processes that benefit humans (Callicott et al., 1999). ‘Compassionate conservation’ seeks to unite the animal protection movement with conservation by protecting individual animals regardless of their species (Wallach et al., 2018). Changes in the dominant conservation paradigms over the past half century are reflected in conservation legislation globally (Cretois et al. 2019), but we know little about how these frameworks align with public values. This is important because community support for management actions increases the likelihood of successful conservation outcomes and public perceptions of wild animals and attitudes toward their management are increasingly important in shaping management decisions (Bertolino and Genovesi, 2003; Crowley et al., 2019; Nimmo and Miller, 2007; van Eeden et al., 2017). Indeed, management of nonnative species is frequently controversial when cultural, spiritual, or emotional relationships are formed between human communities and animals or when these animals provide economic value (Estévez et al., 2015). In Australia, it is generally assumed that the public holds ‘eco-nationalist’ views in its preferences for wildlife, preferring native species over those introduced after European settlement (Smith, 1999). There is some empirical evidence to support this (e.g., Macdonald et al., 2015), with preferences for native species perhaps reflecting the high levels of endemism and distinctiveness of Australian vertebrates (Dickman, 2018). However, there has been limited research on the social dimensions (including public perceptions) of invasive species management, either in Australia or globally (Estévez et al., 2015), despite the utility of such information to inform conservation decisions in regions where native and introduced species are perceived to be in conflict. In the current study of Australian residents, we sought to determine whether (1) categorizing a species as non-native is positively correlated with perceiving it to be a pest; and (2) whether categorizing species based on ‘nativeness’ and perceived pest status are linked with acceptance of lethal control. The current study extends a previous analysis of the same data (van Eeden et al., 2019) that identified that participants generally showed support for nonlethal management of wildlife and that potential for conflict within attitudes toward nonlethal management was low. In addition, the previous analysis found that attitudes toward lethal control of all four species examined herein were moderate to low. As such, the current study focuses on lethal control to identify whether some of this potential for conflict can be understood by exploring how perceptions of species’ native or pest status affect approval of lethal control. In doing so, we explore whether public attitudes conflict with some policy and conservation frameworks. We consider a ‘traditional conservation’ framework to align with justifying lethal control based on whether a species is deemed native, we take an anthropocentric interpretation of the ‘functionalist conservation’ framework which we consider to align with justifying lethal control based on whether a species is deemed to be a pest, and consider a ‘compassionate conservation’ framework to reject lethal control regardless of a species' perceived status.
REDCap electronic data capture tool (Harris et al., 2009), was distributed to the public by a market research company (Survey Sampling International: SSI). SSI sources respondents by emailing invitations to their members who have subscribed to receive surveys. SSI only provided us with complete responses, and as such, no response rates were available. The survey recruitment aims to obtain a sample representative of the Australian public based on gender, age, state of residence, and residence in an urban or rural area. Further details about the survey's distribution, along with respondent demographic information collected, are presented by van Eeden et al. (2019). The survey focused on perceptions and management of four mammal species (or groups of species) managed as pests in Australia: kangaroos (including Macropus spp. and Osphranter spp.), horses (Equus ferus caballus), dingoes (Canis dingo), and red foxes (Vulpes vulpes). Under Australian State and Federal legislation, kangaroos are classified as native to Australia and dingoes, which arrived in Australia with humans 5000–10,000 years ago (Cairns and Wilton, 2016), are now considered naturalized and managed as a native species in some conservation areas. Horses and red foxes are classified as non-native, having arrived in Australia with European settlers after 1788. The survey included response items that aimed to identify (1) whether the public considered these four species to be native or non-native and always, never, or sometimes pests in Australian environments and (2) public acceptance of lethal control of these four species. Typical lethal control methods were specified for each species (e.g., aerial and ground shooting of kangaroos and horses; trapping, shooting, and aerial and ground baiting of dingoes and foxes) and a short description was given (see van Eeden et al., 2019). Acceptance of these methods was rated on a 5-point bi-polar scale (from strongly disapprove [−2] to strongly approve ). We provided an ‘opt out’ (e.g., ‘don't know’) and respondents who opted out were removed from the analyses for each species. Survey questions included in this analysis are provided in the Supplementary Material.
2. Materials and methods
2.1. Survey design and distribution
We received 811 completed surveys including those with missing data where respondents opted out of a question. Respondents were on average 44.9 ± 0.58 (SE) years old and 50.3% were women. Most
2.2. Data analysis We used Pearson's χ2 tests to assess the relationship between perceptions of ‘nativeness’ and pest status for each species. We then grouped respondents based on how they classified species as native or non-native and their perceived pest status (e.g., respondents who considered horses to be native were compared with those who did not). We made comparisons between these groups' approval of different lethal control methods for the relevant species using Pearson's χ2 squared tests to compare between perceptions of pest status and Welch's t-tests to compare between perceptions of native status in SPSS version 24 (IBM Corp., 2016). We removed responses for respondents who opted out on categorizing each species or on indicating their acceptance of each lethal control method. Data are presented using the Potential for Conflict Index (PCI2). PCI2 is a graphical way to display data on stakeholder perspectives on wildlife management issues and was developed to aid communication between scientists and non-technical audiences, displaying withingroup variability (Vaske et al., 2010). A high potential for conflict (maximum value: 1, indicating high response dispersion) is displayed as a large bubble, with smaller bubbles indicating lower potential for conflict (i.e., high respondent consensus, PCI2 values approaching zero). We calculated PCI2 values for each of the groups described above (e.g., pooling respondents who considered horses to be non-native) using the tool available at http://warnercnr.colostate.edu/~jerryv/ PCI2/index.htm.
An online survey, hosted by The University of Sydney using the 2
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acceptance of lethal control existed among those who considered any of these species to be sometimes or always a pest (Fig. 1). A pattern was less evident when comparing PCI2 between across perceptions of native versus non-native status (Fig. 1).
Table 1 Respondents’ perceptions of whether kangaroos, horses, red foxes, and dingoes are native to Australia and to what extent they are pests in Australian environments. Species
Kangaroos Wild horses Foxes Dingoes
Perception of native status
Perception of pest status
Always a pest
A pest in some contexts
Never a pest
2.7% 13.7% 11.6% 7.0%
7.6% 8.9% 42.1% 9.5%
36.3% 40.9% 15.7% 31.3%
53.0% 42.3% 37.7% 52.8%
3.1% 7.9% 4.6% 6.4%
95.6% 18.4% 17.9% 84.6%
1.7% 67.9% 70.5% 8.4%
4. Discussion We show quantitatively that considering a species to be non-native or a pest are linked with each other and both are correlated with acceptance of lethal control. Further, exploring perceptions of a species pest status can explain potential for conflict within attitudes toward lethal control, while moderate to high potential for conflict remains when considering whether a species is considered native or non-native. These findings suggest that, to some extent, the public overall adhere to functionalist views that seek to remove ‘pests’ to minimize their impacts on human interests and favor native species protection over the welfare of individual (non-native) animals. However, there was diversity among responses and we also found that the publics' categorization of ‘nativeness’ did not always align with legal definitions (Table 1) nor account for much conflict within attitudes toward lethal control. For example, some respondents regarded introduced species like red foxes and horses to be native and disapproved of their lethal control, as observed for other persecuted introduced species in Australia (e.g., some deer species, Ford-Thompson et al., 2015) and elsewhere (e.g., wild horse management in the United States, Sharp et al., 2011; protection of hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) on Scottish Islands, Warren, 2007). Indeed, respondents appeared to show less approval of killing introduced horses than they did killing native kangaroos and a relatively high potential for conflict was evident among attitudes toward all kinds of lethal fox control, even among those who considered foxes to be nonnative or always a pest (Fig. 1). One limitation to our study is that the term ‘pest’ may be interpreted differently and thus align with more than one framework. In our study, perceived degree of nuisance was seen as justification for lethal control but this perception may be anthropocentric, i.e., species are pests if they impact on human well-being, or ecologically, (i.e., species are pests if they impact on other (more desirable) species (Bruskotter et al., 2009; Decker and Purdy, 1988) that are favored by the conservation framework that aligns best with a participant's view. Furthermore, those who hold traditional conservation views may see lethal control of animals that affect native species as justified, while others may reject any killing (e.g. compassionate conservation) and therefore disassociate with the term ‘pest’ as the label itself is seen to justify control. Such differences are apparent in our study for approval based on perceived ‘nativeness’ (Fig. 1). Even respondents who considered dingoes to be non-native were generally unsupportive of lethal control, suggesting that despite its lack of endemism to Australia, it is now considered locally iconic (Archer-Lean et al., 2015). Wild horses and their management are highly controversial in Australia and elsewhere, and people disapproved of culling them regardless of their categorization as native or non-native. Despite evidence that horses have strongly negative impacts on natural heritage values in Australia (Nimmo and Miller, 2007), < 9% of respondents considered that wild horses are always a pest (Table 1). Others have found that even people who are usually environmentally conscious will advocate protection of wild horses (e.g., Sharp et al., 2011). This reflects other ways that we perceive, and interact with, different animal species, such as cultural associations and species' charisma (Lorimer, 2007) and, at least for charismatic species like horses, suggests a repugnance toward lethal control that aligns with a compassionate conservation framework. As the terms ‘pest’, ‘non-native’ and ‘invasive’ are not universally defined (Shrader-Frechette, 2001), they can be manipulated to suit a purpose or agenda. Different perceptions of how ‘native’ should be defined may have affected our results, and this is particularly important for species that sit awkwardly between traditional interpretations of ‘native’ and ‘non-native’, like dingoes. Australian governments cannot
respondents considered kangaroos and dingoes to be native to Australia while relatively fewer considered horses and red foxes to be native (Table 1). Slightly more than half the respondents considered that kangaroos (53.0%) and dingoes (52.8%) are never a pest, while around half of respondents considered that wild horses (49.8%) or foxes (54.7%) were a pest at least in some contexts (Table 1). Respondents who considered horses to be non-native were more likely to consider them to be sometimes a pest (χ2 = 23.266, N = 666, df = 2, P < 0.001), whereas those who considered dingoes to be nonnative were less likely to consider them to be always a pest (χ2 = 27.32, N = 722, df = 2, P < 0.001). Those who considered red foxes to be non-native were more likely to consider that they were always pests (χ2 = 27.302, N = 704, df = 2, P < 0.001). There were no significant relationships between perceived nativeness and pest status for kangaroos (only 2.71% considered they were non-native, χ2 = 0.864, N = 775, df = 2, P = 0.649). Perception of pest status was related to acceptance of lethal control for all species, with those who considered each species never a pest exhibiting the lowest approval of lethal control and those who considered each species to be always a pest most approving of lethal control (Table 2, Fig. 1). Similarly, considering a species to be native was generally linked with lower acceptance of lethal control, although this relationship was not significant for the use of some methods for some species, specifically, shooting kangaroos and dingoes from the ground and trapping dingoes (Table 1, Fig. 1). The Potential for Conflict Indices indicated that considering a species not to be a pest elicited a high degree of consensus that lethal control was inappropriate, while greater potential for conflict in Table 2 Relationship between approval of different methods of lethal control and perception of whether a species was native or non-native and to what extent the species was a pest. Native status
Aerial shooting Kangaroo Horse Ground shooting Kangaroo Horse Dingo Fox Trapping Dingo Fox Aerial baiting Dingo Fox Ground baiting Dingo Fox
Pest status Χ2
< 0.001 < 0.001
13.71 234.16 79.65 219.18
0.240 0.001 0.066 < 0.001
168.40 201.01 175.40 275.40
8 8 8 8
< 0.001 < 0.001 < 0.001 < 0.001
< 0.001 < 0.001
< 0.001 < 0.001
< 0.001 < 0.001
1.23 3.41 1.86 4.91
Biological Conservation 242 (2020) 108416
L.M. van Eeden, et al. 0.3
Always a pest
Sometimes a pest
0.5 0.36 0.38
Never a pest
0.42 0.37 -1.5
Red Fox -2
Fig. 1. Approval of different lethal control methods comparing participants' perceptions of whether or not kangaroos, horses, dingoes, and foxes are pests (top) or native (bottom) in Australia. Values in bubbles are Potential for Conflict Indices (PCI2). Comparing between levels of pest status (top figure) all relationships were significant (P < 0.001, see Table 2). Significant differences between perceived native/non-native status within each method per species indicated on bottom figure by an asterisk (*** P < 0.001, ** P < 0.01, * P < 0.05, see Table 2).
introduced species (e.g., adopting predator avoidance behavior), might serve as useful empirical measures of introduced species' integration into local ecosystems (Carthey and Banks, 2012).
agree on how the dingo fits into Australian ecosystems and conservation ontologies, and this is reflected in conflicting legislation that makes the dingo legally both protected and persecuted (Hytten, 2009). The malleability of the dingo's image allows those who portray it as nonnative to justify control efforts, typically to protect livestock production (Hytten, 2009). Demonstrating this, the Western Australian government recently proposed to reclassify the dingo as non-native in its biodiversity legislation, which would have removed restrictions on lethal control and any responsibility to conserve dingoes (Ritchie et al., 2018). This problem is not unique to dingoes nor to Australian contexts. Recolonizing gray wolves (Canis lupus) in Scandinavia, for instance, have been labelled as non-native Russian wolves by those who regard them as pests and wish to remove their protected status (Tønnessen, 2010). Likewise, gray wolves that were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park have been portrayed as Canadian ‘super-wolves’ that are much larger than wolves historically occurring in the area, and thus do not belong (Auger, 2015). Other species, such as horses in North America, are promoted as native or naturalized by those concerned for their welfare or who value them for their cultural significance (Kirkpatrick and Fazio, 2010). The results of this study represent a snapshot of public attitudes in time, and these attitudes will inevitably change. Reflecting on efforts to exterminate Great Plains Bison (Bison bison), the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), and other species now extinct or endangered, or considering that bounties were once placed on all marsupials in Australia, it is clear that the perceived value of ‘pest’ species can be reversed. Similarly, “Tandem aliquando invasores fiunt vernaculi” or “in time, invaders become the natives” (Roman proverb in ShraderFrechette, 2001), is demonstrated by the dingo which is now considered a naturalized species despite being introduced to Australia by humans. This begs the question, what period of time must elapse before horses, foxes, and other introduced species become accepted as part of the Australian biota? Our results suggest that such a change is already occurring in the eyes of some Australians (Table 1). Ecological indicators, such as changes in native species behavior in response to
4.1. Implications for policy Our findings suggest that public attitudes toward wild animal management align with conflicting conservation frameworks (Fig. 2). Traditional conservation views that justify controlling non-native species and functionalist conservation views that justify killing pest species were present and correlated with each other, but perceptions of ‘native’ and ‘pest’ status were not uniformly held among the public and thus neither was acceptance of lethal control. A strong relationship between acceptance of lethal control and perception of pest status indicates that a functionalist view of wildlife management is prevalent, while opposition to lethal control regardless of a species' perceived status suggests that some respondents' views on animal management align with a compassionate conservation framework. This conflict highlights the importance of considering the diversity of public values in designing management approaches and the difficulty of establishing a set of agreed upon conservation goals. If the goals are to maintain a functioning ecosystem, then retaining certain non-native species may be desirable. Similarly, if increasing or maintaining biological diversity is a goal, non-native species can increase species richness (McKinney, 2008). Which goals (and thus which conservation framework) we choose can drastically change our approach to conservation management. We recognize that public values and attitudes are changing, with increasing opposition to lethal control (Manfredo et al., 2009) that will likely continue to restrict management under some circumstances. Additionally, because attitudes toward wildlife management are determined in part by perceptions of animals, these varying attitudes may be influenced by provision of information about the wildlife management issue (Decker and Purdy, 1988). Framing can therefore have consequences for successful implementation of wildlife and pest management and thus achieving agreed conservation aims. 4
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• Compositionalist • Native > non-native species • Restore ecosystems to a former state
Support for killing non-native species over native species
L.M. van Eeden, et al.
!" Enforce control of “pests” with a focus on non-native species such as red foxes (but can include native species declared to be pests).
• Ecosystem services • Manage environment to benefit humans
• Individualist • Oppose native/non-native dichotomy • Promote animal welfare
Support for killing species perceived to be pests
Negative perception of lethal control Challenge ‘pest’ and ‘native’ labels
!"# $ $%&'&( & Enforces & governs (respectively) control of dingoes (and other wild dogs) # $)((*&+! '&(,-. Governs kangaroo culling practices.
/0$++& 1 Mandates protection of wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park, NSW.
Fig. 2. Outline of conservation frameworks, how these frameworks were supported by public attitudes expressed in this survey, and examples of policy that adhere to each framework. Although the specific examples are for the state of New South Wales (NSW) in Australia, the frameworks and public values should allow translation to examples of policy in jurisdictions globally.
Currently, militarized language is prevalent in discussions around invasive species control and this may drive public opposition to culling (Larson, 2005). For controversial species such as horses, our results suggest that marketing their control as justifiable solely based on their non-native status may not be an effective way to increase public support for management. Alternatively, framing animal management as controlling invasive pests to protect aspects of nature that are valued by society can be (and is) used effectively to increase public support for actions. In Australia, lobby groups were recently successful in having horses protected in a national park (Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Bill 2018) – a better way to promote support for their management may be to refocus discussion on concern for the alpine ecosystems and charismatic species that are threatened by the horses' activity there. The intention of this study is to make the values and motivations that shape these management actions visible so they may be considered and possibly challenged. Managing the impacts of invasive species is more than about killing animals that fall on the ‘wrong’ side of the native/non-native dichotomy, and while non-native status was seen as justification for lethal control by many respondents, the relationship between support for control and perceived ‘pest’ status was stronger. This aligns with the global shift in legislation toward promoting conservation management that benefits people (Cretois et al. 2019). Management should focus on achieving conservation objectives effectively and ensuring that any wild animal control is conducted humanely, regardless of the ancestral origin of the animals. This is often not the case, for example, community groups in Australia come together seeking to eradicate cane toads (Rhinella marina), sometimes promoting any means possible, including bludgeoning toads to death with clubs and bats or running them over in vehicles – actions that would not be considered acceptable if directed at native species (Trigger et al., 2008). By revealing public attitudes toward lethal control of wild animals, our research serves as a reminder that such management is guided by values. Neither conservationists nor the public always agree on the most appropriate management action but understanding and addressing conflicting attitudes toward management is critical to achieving conservation outcomes. Understanding public attitudes, as we have done here, is a key first step in this process.
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Funding Distribution of the survey was funded by the 2016 RSPCA Alan White Scholarship for Animal Welfare Research and a grant from the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment. LvE is currently supported by a scholarship from the Australian-American Fulbright Commission. 5
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