Decisions about commercially valuable invasive species

The management of introduced species that are both invasive and commercially valuable is contentious. While such species provide substantial economic benefits to some, they pose considerable costs to others due to negative impacts on ecosystems. Consider, for example, the case of buffel grass. In rangelands worldwide, buffel grass is amongst a suite of commercially valuable invasive species, highly valued by some graziers as a pasture species but widely unpopular among those concerned with the threat it poses for native biodiversity.

Isabelle Grechi and colleagues have proposed a decision framework to help balance conflicting objectives and support the management of commercially valuable invasive species. They illustrated their framework using the buffel grass invasion in Australia.

The framework comprises four components:

1. A state and transition model to represent the invasion dynamics of buffel grass and the effect of management actions.

2. Utility functions to represent the relative values of buffel grass cover in terms of production and biodiversity utilities (indicative of grazier’s and conservationist’s relative ‘happiness’ regarding buffel grass cover); expert and empirical data was used for the construction of the model and utility functions.

3. Management strategies that minimize losses in production and biodiversity utilities in the absence of budget constraints. They used stochastic dynamic programming and multi-criteria decision analysis which explicitly account for trade-offs between production and biodiversity conservation concerns.

4. A sensitivity analysis to assess the impact of assumptions of the model and utility functions. Management complexity arises from biodiversity-production trade- off situations in which the desirable state of buffel grass cover and effective actions to achieve this state depend on the utility functions. Management solutions were particularly sensitive to the shape of the utility  functions for biodiversity. Solutions were less sensitive to uncertainty surrounding the  effectiveness of management actions.

The researchers found that in most biodiversity-production trade-off situations a compromise solution led to management for an intermediate level (>0–50%) of buffel grass cover. However, when maximal values for both biodiversity and production are high, it may be more practical to manage for one value rather than find a compromise solution where concessions from both sides are high. The decision framework does not attempt to optimize economic outcomes but provides a guide for formulating trade-offs between opposing views, something that is relevant to the management of any natural resource management problem where there are conflicting objectives.

Reference

Grechi I, I Chadès, YM Buckley, MH Friedel, AC Grice, HP Possingham, RD van Klinken & TG Martin (2014). A decision framework for management of conflicting production and biodiversity goals for a commercially valuable invasive species. Agricultural Systems 125: 1-11.