People key to tackling major threat to biodiversity

People key to tackling major threat to biodiversity

UOW researchers to lead international discussion on how social science can improve weed management

The impact of climate change, habitat loss and pest animals like feral cats, deer, horses and fire ants, pose huge threats to biodiversity locally and globally, but there is something more threatening that is often overlooked - weeds.

Weeds smother native plants and are often the common denominator of most biodiversity threats facing our immediate environment, but weeds are not often at the forefront of our thinking around environmental action and goals.

A team of social scientists from the University of Wollongong (UOW) will present at the International Association for Society and Natural Resources (IASNR) conference on Tuesday 25 June and Wednesday 26 June in Cairns, to highlight the role people have in managing weeds for biodiversity.

Associate Professors Jennifer Atchison and Sonia Graham, from the Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society and Space (ACCESS), will run two sessions at the IASNR conference to encourage participants to work together to find better solutions to weed mitigation.

“We don't manage the environment without people. This conference is unique as we are focussing on the people, with the purpose of engaging people to manage the environment,” Associate Professor Atchison said.

“To manage weeds and invasive plants better, we need to understand how their management is intertwined with social and cultural connections to place, the management and conservation of ecological communities, and societal responses to extreme events, such as hurricanes and bushfires.

“This is an opportunity for us to use the expertise that is at this conference, including social scientists and practitioners, to ask, what are the big, unanswered social science questions that weed management needs to consider? How do we take that to policy makers and get them to embed that in their work?”

In a recent article published in The Conversation, Associate Professor Graham looked at the role community groups play in successfully controlling habitat-changing weeds.

She studied the success of a group of local volunteers, Deua Rivercare.

“These volunteers have been controlling small-leaved and broad-leaved privet and other weeds along a 42-kilometre stretch of river for 20 years. How have they gone the distance? By making it about more than just the weeds.

“Having a clear goal and sufficient funding is important for a community group to achieve positive environmental outcomes. But my research has found these alone are not enough to build and sustain action. What matters is structure and social connection.”

Together with researchers from Purdue University and the University of Florida, the UOW social scientists will bring together a broad range of voices to the discussion, including recognising Indigenous knowledge and expertise in weed management during their sessions at the conference.

The researchers are hopeful that discussions at the conference will form the basis of a new international collaboration where social scientists and practitioners come together to set a social science agenda for weed and invasive plant management.

Registrations for the session are still open and can be made via the IASNR conference website (fees apply).

About the IASNR conference

The International Association for Society and Natural Resources conference emphasises local to global resource management issues, environmental justice, collaborative stakeholder processes, and the social impacts of natural resource management through cutting-edge research and engaging in productive discussions focused on the sustainable management of natural and cultural resources. This year’s theme is around ‘Re-creating Landscape and Culture in a time of Global Change’.