The effects of two educational programs on visitors' knowledge of and attitudes towards, and support for control of, invasive species on Cumberland Island National Seashore
Sharp, Ryan Leonard
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Invasive species are an issue facing ecosystems throughout the world, and are considered by several researchers to be the major threat to biodiversity across the planet. The issue of invasive species is a problem for many of America’s public land agencies, and the national parks of the United States of America are not exempt from this growing threat. Cumberland Island National Seashore (CUIS) has some very visible and destructive invasive species. The management of CUIS has stated that invasive feral animals and exotic plants will be managed to the point that their threat is negligible, as they recognize the negative economic and environmental impacts of invasive species. Public support for this action will be essential, however, little is known about the public’s knowledge of and attitudes towards invasive species or whether they would support CUIS’s management plans for their control. A link has been found between awareness and education and the importance they play in increasing public support for invasive species management. A pre-test/post-test design was used to examine visitors’ knowledge of and attitudes towards invasive species at CUIS, and determine how these characteristics influenced their support for invasive species control on CUIS. This study also sought to design, implement and evaluate the effect of two education programs on CUIS visitors’ knowledge and attitudes towards invasive species, and determine whether the programs influenced visitors’ support for controlling invasive species on the island. Visitors that received an audio or visual interpretive program exhibited an increase in their survey scores related to their knowledge of and attitudes towards invasive species as well as support for control of invasive species. There was, however, little difference between the effectiveness of visual and audio program regarding knowledge. There was a statistically significant increase in survey scores for the attitude construct between the experimental and control groups, with the support for control construct producing the most statistically significant variables. There was a statistically significant difference for several of the support for management actions between the audio and visual treatment groups. For the majority of the items, the audio group had a higher mean than the visual group. Results confirm that those visitors with an anthropocentric value orientation are more likely to see nature as more utilitarian and that the island is more important for human use than for conservation of a pristine ecosystem. Also, those visitors with a biocentric value orientation and more knowledge of invasive species are more likely to support management action towards invasive species. The biocentric group had a statistically significant higher mean on the majority of the support for control questions compared to the anthropocentric group. Visitors with more education and a biocentric value orientation also indicated more support for certain control measures. This survey instrument will benefit public lands with similar issues. The instrument is flexible enough to plug in specific park related issues and provide fruitful and meaningful results to help manage their invasive species issues. The support for control of invasive species questions yielded some hope for managers of CUIS that compromises can be met. Visitors were more supportive of management actions after receiving one of the interpretive programs. It is apparent that in many cases multiple messages may be needed to reach audio and visual learners in this technological age, plus repeated educational programs may eventually lead to the most support for potential management actions. Knowledge of invasive species can lead to a change in attitudes towards invasive species, which can lead to a change in behavior, which in this instance is manifested by greater support for control of invasive species on CUIS.