Effects of Outreach on the Prevention of Aquatic Invasive Species Spread among Organism-in-Trade Hobbyists


Releases of aquatic organisms-in-trade by aquarists, water gardeners, and outdoor pond owners have been identified as aquatic invasive species vectors within the Laurentian Great Lakes region. The trademarked U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Habitattitude campaign was developed in 2004 to encourage self-regulation by these groups, but little is known about its effects. We surveyed organisms-in-trade hobbyists in the eight Great Lakes states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, USA) to assess their recognition of the Habitattitude campaign and their compliance with the campaign’s recommended behaviors for organism purchase and disposal. Awareness of the Habitattitude campaign was low, but hobbyists that identified as both water gardeners and aquarium hobbyists were more aware of the campaign than individuals who participated in one of those hobbies. Engaged hobbyists (high aquatic invasive species awareness, concern, and knowledge) were significantly more likely than passive hobbyists (low aquatic invasive species awareness, concern, and knowledge) to make decisions about disposal of live organisms with the intention of preventing aquatic invasive species spread, were more likely to contact other hobbyists for disposal and handling advice, and were less likely to contact professionals, such as retailers. On the basis of our results, we suggest that compliance with recommended behaviors may be increased by fostering hobbyist networks; creating materials that both explain tangible, negative environmental impacts and list specific prevention behaviors; and disseminating these materials through trusted information sources and venues.

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Funding for this study was provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources from a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service award.

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Correspondence to Erin Seekamp.

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Appendix 1

Appendix 1

Questionnaire Items Included in Analyses

Notes: Additional questionnaire items were included in the full survey instrument. The order in which questionnaire items appear in this appendix does not match the order in which they appeared in the survey instrument. The questionnaire items presented in this appendix do not include the demographic measures included in our analyses.

  1. 1.

    How would you best identify yourself?

    • ○ Aquarium hobbyist

    • ○ Outdoor pond hobbyist

    • ○ Water gardener

    • ○ Both aquarium hobbyist and outdoor pond or water garden owner

  2. 2.

    During the past 3 years, did you keep aquatic plants, fish or other animals in an aquarium, outdoor pond or water garden?

    • ○ Yes, I keep a fish bowl or small freshwater aquarium of 5 gallons or less

    • ○ Yes, I keep a large freshwater aquarium of 5 gallons or more

    • ○ Yes, I keep a saltwater aquarium

    • ○ Yes, I keep an outdoor pond or water garden

    • ○ Yes, I work at a business that sells aquatic plants, fish or other animals

    • ○ No, I have not kept an aquarium, outdoor pond, or water garden in the past 3 years

  3. 3.

    Have you heard of the program (Habitattitude)?

    • ○ Yes

    • ○ No

  4. 4.

    Do you recognize this logo?

    • ○ Yes

    • ○ No

    Aquatic invasive species (AIS), also known as aquatic nuisance species (ANS), are aquatic plants or animals that are introduced to an area where they are not native, outcompete native species and establish abundant populations in the wild, and are difficult to control or eradicate.

  5. 5.

    Based on the given definition, to what extent are you aware of AIS (aquatic invasive species)?

    • ○ Not at all aware

    • ○ Slightly aware

    • ○ Somewhat aware

    • ○ Very aware

    • ○ Extremely aware

  6. 6.

    To what extent are you concerned about the spread of AIS in the environment?

    • ○ Not at all concerned

    • ○ Slightly concerned

    • ○ Somewhat concerned

    • ○ Very concerned

    • ○ Extremely concerned

  7. 7.

    I do not have enough information to know how to prevent the spread of AIS. (reverse coded)

    • ○ Strongly disagree

    • ○ Disagree

    • ○ Neither agree nor disagree

    • ○ Agree

    • ○ Strongly agree

  8. 8.

    In the past three years, have you made decisions about: (Please mark one response per statement on the scale below.)

      Yes No
    a. Purchases with preventing the spread of AIS in mind?
    b. Disposal with preventing the spread of AIS in mind?
  9. 9.

    In the future, how likely are you to make decisions about: (Please mark one response per statement on the scale below.)

      Not at all likely Slightly Somewhat Very Extremely likely
    a. Purchases with preventing the spread of AIS in mind?
    b. Disposal with preventing the spread of AIS in mind?
  10. 10.

    There are a number of different practices that can help prevent the spread of AIS. For each of the following practices, please indicate if you (1) Performed the practice in the past 3 years and (2) How likely you would be to perform the practice in the future.

      Yes No Not at all likely Slightly Somewhat Very Extremely likely Does not apply
    a. Buy aquatic species from a licensed, local dealer
    b. Buy aquatic species from a reputable, local dealer
    c. Buy aquatic species from a licensed, online dealer
    d. Buy aquatic species from a reputable, online dealer
    e. Contact another hobbyist to give or trade
    f. Accept aquatic species from another hobbyist
    g. Donate aquatic species to a school or business
    h. Contact a retailer for handling advice of disposals
    i. Contact a retailer for possible returns
    j. Contact a retailer for advice on humane disposals
    k. Contact a vet for advice on humane disposals
  11. 11.

    To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements retailers or fish, plant, reptile or amphibian species for your aquarium, outdoor pond or water garden? (Please mark one response per statement on the scale below.)

      Strongly disagree Disagree Neither agree nor disagree Agree Strongly agree Does not apply
    a. I know other hobbyists willing to accept unwanted species
    b. Retailers are responsible for educating the public about AIS
    c. I trust local retailers
    d. I trust online retailers
  12. 12.

    Have you received information about AIS in the past?

    • ○ Yes

    • ○ No

  13. 13.

    If you have received information about AIS in the past, how have you received information about AIS in the past? (Please mark all that apply.)

    • ○ Learned about AIS in school

    • ○ Read about AIS in magazines

    • ○ Read about AIS in online water hobbyists forums

    • ○ Read about AIS in the newspaper

    • ○ Learned about AIS through a television program

    • ○ Information about AIS came with the purchase of my aquatic plant or animal

  14. 14.

    How effective would the following campaign materials be at influencing your behaviors to prevent the spread of AIS? (Please mark one response per statement on the scale below.)

  Not at all effective Slightly Somewhat Very Extremely
General campaign materials
a. Campaign advertisements in hobbyist magazines
b. Television commercials with campaign advertisements
c. Campaign advertisements on online hobbyist forums
d. Radio commercials with campaign advertisements
e. AIS informational App for your smartphone or tablet
f. Podcasts with campaign information
Materials at an aquarium store or nursery
g. Informative campaign pamphlets included with purchase
h. Informative campaign posters displayed throughout stores
i. Informative campaign flyers placed at registers
Materials at an aquarium trade show, auction or water garden expo
j. Informational booth with examples of AIS
k. Informational booth depicting the effects of AIS on the environment
l. Pamphlets handed out with information on recommended behaviors
m. Rinse buckets for plants that display the recommended behaviors
n. Informational booth with educational campaign video playing
o. Give away items (e.g., key chains and stickers) with recommended behaviors written on them

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Seekamp, E., Mayer, J.E., Charlebois, P. et al. Effects of Outreach on the Prevention of Aquatic Invasive Species Spread among Organism-in-Trade Hobbyists. Environmental Management 58, 797–809 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-016-0748-5

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  • Environmental education
  • Environmental behavior
  • Environmental awareness
  • Environmental concern