A role for citizens in detecting invasive species – but they need help

The rates of invasive species’ introductions have grown significantly over the last half a century, and they show no signs of slowing. This is especially the case for invasive insect species, which are mainly introduced accidentally as stowaways and contaminants in international trade.

It’s been estimated that the total annual cost of invasive species detection, eradication and damage to the environment and trade is AUD$1.7 trillion (US$1.3tr), of which a component is insects.

Researchers believe that one way of countering these biological invasions is by informing people about invasive species, and a recent paper in the journal NeoBiota has investigated citizen science as a method of doing this.

About 500 students (aged 11-18 years) in north-eastern Italy used plastic bottles and hand sanitiser to trap ambrosia beetles in their school grounds. They discovered two species considered to be quarantine pests by the European Union – Cnestus mutilatus and Anisandrus maiche – both of which have not been detected in Italy before.

A plastic bottle trap handing from a tree
A plastic bottle trap filled with hand-sanitizer as attractant. Credit: Dr Fernanda Colombari

In total, six different species of ambrosia beetles were recorded during the study, including two native species,and four invasive species which made up 35% of the total catch.

“Despite many global measures implemented to limit the risk of [invasive species] introduction, current tools are ineffective at slowing down the ever-increasing arrivals into new regions at unprecedented rates,” the authors write in the paper.

“An effective early detection of invasive forest pests should involve citizens, as most first records occur in cities or suburban areas.

“People are often unaware of the role they have in the entire invasive process. Therefore, promoting interest and receiving public collaboration and support through educational activities and information campaigns should be seen as a good long-term investment to counter biological invasions.”

A black beetle tunneling into a branch. Invasive species.
Camphor Shot Borer (Cnestus mutilatus) tunneling into a branch. Credit: © Jeff Eickwort, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC) 850

The results of questionnaires showed that students acquired greater knowledge and increased their awareness and interest in invasive species by more than 50%.

“We show here that citizen science can successfully involve school students, giving them an opportunity to participate and contribute in detection of ambrosia beetle species, a group associated with a number of pathways in international trade. Citizens can significantly help with the collection of scientific data to improve the management of natural and cultivated ecosystems,” they write.

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