Human Dimensions of Aquatic Invasive Species

Aquatic invasive species (AIS) have steadily become a major environmental concern in the United States. In freshwater systems, these species threaten the diversity of native species, ecological stability, and municipal, commercial, agricultural, and recreational interests. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), as well as other state and local agencies, consider aquatic invasives a major environmental and social issue for the state. For example, boaters who utilize multiple freshwater bodies, e.g., lakes or reservoirs, but fail to properly inspect and clean their boat or equipment for AIS, provide a means for invasives to spread and establish in other waterbodies. In other words, human behavior contributes significantly to the spread of AIS; yet, it also represents a means by which policy and practice can effectively reduce how and why AIS spread through waterbodies. That is, natural resource management agencies increasingly recognize that understanding of human behavior, and the factors that influence and facilitate behavior, is an integral component of successful management.

Managing and conserving natural resources often requires resource users to engage in behaviors that are not necessarily intuitive, salient, or convenient. In other words, changing behavior is challenging. Currently, Texas requires boaters to comply with “Clean, Drain, Dry” behaviors to reduce the spread of aquatic invasives. To promote clean, drain, and dry behaviors, management agencies develop awareness and education campaigns, targeting boaters with informative signs or billboards near public access points to waterbodies. However, scant data exists regarding the effectiveness of these campaigns and boaters’ awareness of or engagement in “Clean, Drain, Dry”. Also, there has been no statewide assessment of Texas boaters’ awareness and knowledge of aquatic invasives.

A large body of research suggests informative message approaches alone, such as those currently used to encourage “Clean, Drain, Dry”, are not effective at promoting behavior change. Instead, scholars have shown that messages that make salient social obligation and social norms are more effective at promoting behavior change. Known generally as social influence approaches, these strategies utilize information or messages that emphasize what behaviors are commonly done and/or those that are socially expected, appropriate, and approved. That is, given the public and social context in which boating and clean, drain, and dry behaviors occur, social influence approaches, specifically those that utilize social norm messaging, can be more effective at promoting behavior change.

Research Outcomes

Wallen, K. E., & Kyle, G. T. (2018). The efficacy of message frames on recreational boaters’ aquatic invasive species mitigation behavioral intentions. Human Dimensions of Wildlife, 23(4), 297–312. link

Wallen, K. E., & Kyle, G. T. (2018). Extending the return potential model with descriptive normative belief measures. Society and Natural Resources, 31(10), 1206–1212. link

Wallen, K. E. & Kyle, G. T. (2018). Aquatic invasive species in Texas freshwaters: A statewide survey of recreational boaters’ perceptions, preferences, and behaviors. Report prepared for the Inland Fisheries Divisions, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. link


Human Dimensions
Conservation  |  Natural Resources
People  |  Behavior  |  Action

© 2020 by Kenneth E. Wallen