Invasive Species

The history of invasive species in the Great Lakes starts with the creation of the Welland Canal, a human-made waterway that linked Lake Ontario to Lake Erie in the mid-1800s. Sea lampreys and alewives were able to travel through the canal into the Great Lakes, with massive effects on both people and fish. 

While Great Lakes invasion science used to be primarily focused on managing sea lamprey and alewives for the benefit of commercial and recreational fisheries, Campbell noted that “now, what we think about in terms of invasive species in the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes region is so much more broad than just alewives and sea lamprey.” New invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels have expanded the challenge, with more nonnative species arriving all the time. Improvements in control programs have given AIS managers alternatives, and new prevention programs have helped reach wider audiences. 

While advancements in science and technology have bolstered our understanding of invasive species and the pathways they use to breach new areas, new pathways are continuously arising. Campbell cited online marketplaces as an example. These marketplaces, which allow customers to purchase species from anywhere in the world, have complicated AIS management in the past 10 years. Additionally, new segments of existing pathways—like recreational watercraft with ballast tanks—keep AIS managers readdressing pathways they thought were already sufficiently covered by their management plans. 

So where does invasion science go from here? 

“I think we’re starting to get more specific with pathways and how we can focus less on the actual invasive species and more on the people using the pathways – how we can work with them to stop unintentionally moving plants and animals around,” Campbell said. 

Through the eyes of Campbell, the limiting factor of his field is often not new biological facts about invasive species, but rather getting people to understand the impacts of their actions and getting them to take action. In terms of progressing the field of invasion science, Campbell has high hopes that the approach of shifting toward social science and trying to incorporate more of it into invasive species management will prove effective. 

Campbell has taken this approach in his own work and has worked with teams that have been creating new ways to reach the public and change behavior using video and social media. The teams have been evaluating those efforts to help optimize AIS prevention messaging, including a recent study that helped determine that positive and fact-based message frames can perform as well as nativist and militaristic frames, which may have unintended consequences. 

“In the next 50 years, I hope we keep going down this track of interdisciplinary work and trying to use all of the different scientific disciplines to address our problems” in order to “leave no stone unturned for potential improvements,” Campbell said. “It [the Sea and Land Grant College approach] has historically been very important in managing our agricultural problems and natural resource issues, and I think we will be even more important in the future because of where we sit between science and communities. Especially in this age of finding anything on the internet, no matter the accuracy, I think that it’s important to have this trusted source of scientific information to help communities make the best decisions possible.”—ER