Media representation of hemlock woolly adelgid management risks: a case study of science communication and invasive species control

Abstract

Public support can aid invasive species control and thus reduce negative impacts. Scientific communication can help or hinder efforts when associated risk and uncertainty are exaggerated or neglected, creating fear or distrust. Review of 104 media articles about managing a devastating forest insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), revealed that uncertainties and value judgments associated with claims of success were usually obscured or omitted, legitimate disagreement among experts about efficacy was omitted, and risks to non-targets were usually unaddressed. Discussion of chemical control in 83 articles included mention of non-target effects (e.g., to water quality, pollinators, and other native taxa) in only 11 articles and specificity was mentioned in only five instances. Biocontrol non-target impacts were mentioned in 11 of 83 cases and agent specificity was not mentioned in 71 of those cases. Ironically, while the value of the native ecosystem is used to justify management, possible non-target impacts of management on native ecosystems are largely ignored, notably hybridization between an introduced non-native biocontrol agent (Laricobius nigrinus) and a native beetle (L. rubidus) and ongoing releases of two non-native beetles, L. osaskensis colonies contaminated with a poorly understood, newly described species (L. naganoensis). To increase the public’s ability to make informed decisions, benefits of management techniques should be discussed along with risks, scientific disagreement, and uncertainty.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Jess Welch for assistance identifying articles and two anonymous reviewers for thoughtful comments that improved the manuscript. Funding was provided by the University of Tennessee Office of Undergraduate Research’s Fall Undergraduate Research Award, the Eppley Foundation for Research, and the endowment of the Nancy Gore Hunger Professorship in Environmental Studies at the University of Tennessee.

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Correspondence to Christy Leppanen.

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Leppanen, C., Frank, D.M., Lockyer, J.J. et al. Media representation of hemlock woolly adelgid management risks: a case study of science communication and invasive species control. Biol Invasions 21, 615–624 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-018-1850-9

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Keywords

  • Adelges tsugae
  • Eastern hemlock
  • Hemlock woolly adelgid
  • Invasive species
  • Media representation
  • Non-target effects
  • Tsuga spp.
  • Uncertainty