Aquatic invasive species specialists’ perceptions on the importance of genetic tools and concepts to inform management

T. A. Bernos, K. M. Jeffries and N. E. Mandrak,  Biological Invasions,  24:1863-1879. 2022.

Perceptions related to the importance of genetic research influence the mobilization of genetic tools and concepts to inform conservation actions. Research characteristics, stakeholders’ perspectives, knowledge, and social linkages with geneticists influence the outcome of genetic information for management practices. We surveyed a broad range of aquatic invasive species (AIS) specialists whose opinions, perspectives, and decisions influence AIS decision-making. We assessed perceptions related to the importance of genetic tools and concepts, as well as the appropriateness of genetic biocontrol, and tested whether their expertise, background, and experience influenced perceptions in a predictable way. While perceptions towards genetic tools and concepts were generally heterogeneous, there was a high consensus (84%) related to the importance of eDNA. Most predictors were weakly correlated with importance ratings. Specialists’ genetic knowledge was the strongest predictor of higher importance ratings: the odds of AIS specialists giving higher ratings increased by up to 1.5-fold with increasing genetic knowledge. When evaluating the appropriateness of genetic biocontrol, level of support was lower for approaches based on gene editing (58%) than those relying on traditional hatchery techniques (70%). Support for gene editing varied by geographic location and with specialists’ knowledge of genetics and AIS management. These findings suggest that perceptions towards genetic research vary between genetic tools and concepts and are shaped by the interplay of individual’s values, expertise, experience, and background. To collaborate more effectively, genetic scientists must understand the extent of genetic knowledge of their AIS management partners and recognize that their conceptions of the conservation genetics research-practice space may vary.

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