Rebecca Rooney organizes workshop to help manage invasive species

Friday, November 17, 2017

Rebecca Rooney, Water Institute member and professor in the Department of Biology, studies wetlands ecology. Her work supports the implementation of invasive species management and the protection of species at risk. Currently, Rooney is exploring the interactions between invasive species and species at risk, especially Phragmites australis, which is considered one of the greatest dangers to coastal marshes.

In 2016, Rooney was awarded over $10,000 through the Water Institute seed grant program to expand her research in the interdisciplinary assessment of whether intervention is warranted in the management of aquatic invasive species. Last month, using the funding from the seed grant program, Rooney hosted a workshop with professor Brendon Larson from the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, that brought together practitioners, academics, and regulators to devise a decision-support tool for land managers facing well-established invasions to evaluate their options for control and help them develop a rationale for their decisions.

Rooney and Larson recognized that the majority of invasive species control frameworks focused on the early stages of invasion, when a target species’ population is usually small and easily contained. However, there is a major knowledge gap when managers struggle with already established invasions. Rooney and Larson saw this workshop as an opportunity to develop tools that would benefit practioners.

“The factors that must be weighed in deciding whether to actively control an alien species span biological, social, economic and governance realms,” said Rooney. “Yet existing risk-assessment frameworks rarely integrate knowledge from multiple disciplines.”

Consequently, most management decision frameworks default to an active intervention strategy. To overcome the challenges inherent in interdisciplinarity, a new framework is required to support comprehensive assessment of the need for invasive species control actions.

“Only by bridging gaps between disciplines can we enable managers to make evidence-based, objective decisions on invasive species control,” said Rooney.

professors and practioners gathered around table at invasive species workshop

The workshop resulted in participants drafting a decision framework for managing well-established invasions. The group identified three simple-to-use tools:

  1. Quantify the net damages caused by the invasion
  2. Determine if the necessary factors are in place to give the project a high chance of success
  3. Determine the net benefits of active control.

Rooney and her team, including PhD student Courtney Robichaud, are working on finalizing and validating the tools and framework that the group developed. Rooney also wants to pilot their approach with land managers who are dealing with an established invasive species to evaluate how effective the framework is in guiding their decision-making process.

When asked how interdisciplinary approaches contribute to success when it comes to tackling complex water problems, Rooney reiterated the importance of comprehensive approaches:

“Invasive species impact the governance, social, environmental, and economic realms, and managing them effectively requires an interdisciplinary approach. Particularly when considering net benefits and net damages, a comprehensive approach is necessary. The decision to actively manage an invasive species cannot be evaluated fully from just one perspective.”

field work in ontario

Rooney’s lab is also currently monitoring the aerial use of aquatic herbicide to control Phragmites in Canada at Rondeau and Long Point Provincial Parks – a project initiated by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and partners. Rooney’s lab will perform surveys to see how effective the treatment has been, determine what happens to the glyphosate after it is sprayed and examine the risks the herbicide poses to the ecosystem.

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