Research Article: Are the ecological effects of the “worst” marine invasive species linked with scientific and media attention?

Date Published: April 18, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Nathan R. Geraldi, Andrea Anton, Catherine E. Lovelock, Carlos M. Duarte, Judi Hewitt.


Non-native species are a major driver of environmental change. In this study we assessed the ecological impact of the “worst” non-native species and the associated scientific and media publications through time to understand what influences interest in these species. Ecological effect was based on a qualitative assessment reported in research publications and additional searches of the scientific and media attention were conducted to determine published articles and assess attention. We did not detect a relationship between the number of publications for a non-native species and the magnitude of the ecological effects of that species or the number of citations. Media coverage on non-native species was low, only evident for less than 50% of the non-native species assessed. Media coverage was initially related to the number of scientific publications, but was short-lived. In contrast, the attention to individual non-native species in the scientific literature was sustained through time and often continued to increase over time. Time between detection of the non-native species and the scientific/media attention were reduced with each successive introduction to a new geographic location. Tracking publications on non-native species indicated that media attention does seem to be associated with the production of scientific research while scientific attention was not related to the magnitude of the ecological effects.

Partial Text

Society’s environmental perception of non-native species is complex, and includes multiple interacting social-ecological facets, including scientific research and cultural norms [1–3]. For example, economic drivers can influence public concern over environmental issues, as demonstrated for climate change [4], and the media can shape public opinion. Given the increasing audience that scientists can reach with social media and the dialogue that exists between scientists and the public [5], the influence of science communication and its magnification by the media on societal environmental perceptions is likely to increase.

Broad indicators of scientific interest in invasive species were assessed by searching the Web of Science (WS) for articles that focused on the influence of non-native species in three ecosystems; marine, terrestrial and freshwater (see S1 Table for search terms and the number of references). We quantified the number of articles each year from the searches and compared the scientific interest on invasive species to other broad and relevant marine ecological topics, including effects on “biodiversity” and of “ocean acidification”, assessed through similar WS searches (S1 Table). To measure the trend through time we calculated the regression line for the articles per year, which was log transformed to compare to previous findings. The WS searches were performed on the 24th of September 2018.

We focused on the “worst” marine non-native species to assess interactions among ecological impacts and the media and scientific attention. We did not find any indication that scientific publications or citations were associated with the magnitude of ecological effects reported in publications for individual species. These non-significant results could derive from low sample size, which in part reflects the scarce scientific and media attention given to non-native species. In general, the species were only promoted to an invasive status following scientific research on their ecological effects, and only then received media attention. However, many non-native species received little or no media attention. Once a species was labeled invasive, there was a clear trend to recognize this species and use the “invasive” label to describe that species more rapidly at each successive detection in a new geographic region.




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