Aquatic invasive species are non-native organisms that harm the environment, economy, or human and livestock health. Illinois is especially vulnerable to aquatic invaders. Various species can spread from Lake Michigan to inland waters, and conversely, from the Mississippi River to Illinois rivers, inland lakes, and Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan historically has had one of the highest invasion rates of any freshwater ecosystem, with over 120 non-native species now present in the lake. Harmful effects of aquatic invasive species that reside in the lake include the multimillion dollar annual cost to industry and water utilities, reduced recreational activities, and degrading native habitats.
One way that aquatic invaders are introduced to the Great Lakes region is through the organisms in trade pathway. As the name suggests, this pathway refers to the buying and selling of species. Although not all species in trade are invasive, novel species are being intentionally moved through this pathway to new areas where they have never been before.
Once invasive species are established in a new environment, they are expensive—if not impossible—to remove. Preventing new introductions is much more cost-effective than removing a species once established1. Interdicting the organisms in trade pathway through outreach is a viable way to prevent new introductions of novel species2, some of which are known to be or can become invasive.
Aquariums, water gardens, classrooms, live food, and live bait are examples of the many sub-pathways within the organisms in trade pathway. From these sub-pathways, trade species are able to spread to new environments through their intentional release and accidental escape. Our work focuses on the trade of ornamentals used in aquariums and water gardens.
North Carolina State University social science researchers, in partnership with the Illinois Natural History Survey and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, studied water garden and aquarium hobbyists’ attitudes and behaviors related to releasing organisms and preventing their escape3. The purpose of the study was to understand how to better reach these hobbyists. In summary, four basic suggestions arose from this research: activate personal norms, make connections between the hobbies and environmental impacts, use retailers and trade shows to relay messages as sources of trusted information, and suggest achievable actions that people are willing to do. Our outreach efforts have since strove to incorporate these findings in our materials.
We first addressed behaviors related to preventing the escape of invasive species through purchasing choices and containment actions. In cooperation with the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network, we created a series of outreach publications titled “What’s in Your Water Garden?” and “What’s in Your Aquarium?” We addressed purchasing behaviors by incorporating the results of the Notre Dame Science-Based Tools for Assessing Invasion Risk (STAIR)4,5,6. This tool helps to determine which species in trade are likely to be invasive. Low-risk or native species were recommended for use in trade, while high-risk species were to be avoided. Also included were suggestions for hobbyists on properly containing aquatic species. These suggested behaviors were based on guidelines created by the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force7.
The “What’s in Your…” publications were distributed through retailers and at trade shows in Illinois and Indiana. Additionally, they were disseminated to other Great Lakes states through the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network. These materials can be found at www.TakeAIM.org/Outreach. In addition to these publications, state and federal contacts, a nationwide regulations database, more details on Notre Dame’s STAIR, and much more regarding the organisms in trade pathway are provided on the TakeAIM website.
To address the intentional release of aquatic organisms in trade, we created the outreach campaign, Be A Hero – Release Zero, which was created in partnership with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The effort was to promote proper disposal of water and unwanted plants and animals. As seen in the figure above, water should be treated or repurposed. Plants should be sealed in plastic and disposed of in the trash. Animals should be rehomed or taken care of humanely. These suggestions were based on the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force guidelines. The brand design was created to complement the Be A Hero - Transport Zero campaign to capitalize on cross-messaging reminders. Transport Zero was created in partnership with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to remind recreational water users to clean their boats and other equipment. Visit TransportZero.org for more information. Release Zero materials have been disseminated in Illinois through talks, trade shows, social media, posters, and message prompts. ReleaseZero.org was launched this summer and houses brand information and partnership opportunities.
Future outreach efforts will include hosting pet surrender events, where people can relinquish their aquatic pets they are no longer able to care for as an alternative to releasing them into our environment. These events make the rehoming suggestion from Release Zero more achievable. We will also publish a list of locations where animals may be surrendered on ReleaseZero.org. If you are interested in participating in pet surrender events, please contact Danielle Hilbrich (email@example.com).
1Kolar, C. S. and D. M. Lodge. 2001. Progress in invasion biology predicting invaders. TRENDS in Ecology & Evolution 16(4):199–204.
2 Burt, J. W., A. A. Muir, J. Piovia-Scott, K. E. Veblen, A. L. Chang, J. D. Grossman, and H. W. Weiskel. 2007. Preventing horticultural introductions of invasive plants: Potential efficacy of voluntary initiatives. Biological Invasions 9:909–923.
3 Seekamp, E., J. Mayer, P. Charlebois, and G. Hitzroth. 2016. Effects of outreach on the prevention of aquatic invasive species spread among organism-in-trade hobbyists. Environmental Management 58:797–809.
4 Howeth, J. G., C. A. Gantz, P. L. Angermeier, E. A. Frimpong, M. H. Hoff, R. P. Keller, N. E. Mandrak, M. P. Marchetti, J. D. Olden, C. M. Romagosa, and D. M. Lodge. 2015. Predicting invasiveness of species in trade: Climate match, trophic guild and fecundity influence establishment and impact of non-native freshwater fishes. Biodiversity Research 22:148–160.
5 Keller, R. P, J. Drake, and D. M. Lodge. 2007. Fecundity as a basis for risk assessment of nonindigenous freshwater molluscs. Conservation Biology 21:191–200.
6 Gantz, C. A., D. R. Gordon, C. L Jerde, R. P. Keller, W. L. Chadderton, P. D. Champion, D. M. Lodge. 2015. Managing the introduction and spread of non-native aquatic plants in the Laurentian Great Lakes: A regional risk assessment approach. Management of Biological Invasions 6:45–55.