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Aquatic invasive species specialists’ perceptions on the importance of genetic tools and concepts to inform management

Abstract

Perceptions related to the importance of genetic research influence the mobilization of genetic tools and concepts to inform conservation actions. Research characteristics, stakeholders’ perspectives, knowledge, and social linkages with geneticists influence the outcome of genetic information for management practices. We surveyed a broad range of aquatic invasive species (AIS) specialists whose opinions, perspectives, and decisions influence AIS decision-making. We assessed perceptions related to the importance of genetic tools and concepts, as well as the appropriateness of genetic biocontrol, and tested whether their expertise, background, and experience influenced perceptions in a predictable way. While perceptions towards genetic tools and concepts were generally heterogeneous, there was a high consensus (84%) related to the importance of eDNA. Most predictors were weakly correlated with importance ratings. Specialists’ genetic knowledge was the strongest predictor of higher importance ratings: the odds of AIS specialists giving higher ratings increased by up to 1.5-fold with increasing genetic knowledge. When evaluating the appropriateness of genetic biocontrol, level of support was lower for approaches based on gene editing (58%) than those relying on traditional hatchery techniques (70%). Support for gene editing varied by geographic location and with specialists’ knowledge of genetics and AIS management. These findings suggest that perceptions towards genetic research vary between genetic tools and concepts and are shaped by the interplay of individual’s values, expertise, experience, and background. To collaborate more effectively, genetic scientists must understand the extent of genetic knowledge of their AIS management partners and recognize that their conceptions of the conservation genetics research-practice space may vary.

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Availability of data and materials

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Code availability

R scripts are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

Authors are grateful to the many AIS specialists and organizations who responded to, and helped distribute, our survey. We also thank Dr. Rollinson and Dr. Cadotte for their early feedback on this work.

Funding

This work was supported by a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship to T.A.B., a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant (#05479) to K.M.J., an NSERC Discovery (#05226) and NSERC Strategic Project (#506528) Grants to N.E.M., and a Genome Canada Large-Scale Applied Research Project grant to K.M.J. and N.E.M.

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Material preparation, data collection and analysis were performed by T.A. Bernos. The first draft of the manuscript was written by T.A. Bernos and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to T. A. Bernos.

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This work complies with Canadian ethics in human research. It obtained ethics approval from the Human Research Ethics Board of the University of Toronto (Protocol 40532).

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Survey participants were made aware that they did not have to participate in the study, and that it is fully voluntary and anonymous.

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Survey participants were made aware that the authors aimed to publish the results of the survey.

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Bernos, T.A., Jeffries, K.M. & Mandrak, N.E. Aquatic invasive species specialists’ perceptions on the importance of genetic tools and concepts to inform management. Biol Invasions 24, 1863–1879 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-022-02758-x

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Keywords

  • Management practices
  • Aquatic invasive species
  • eDNA
  • Biocontrol
  • Conservation genetics research-practice gap
  • Evolution