Invasive Species: Conceptual Debates and their Implications for Conservation and Public Dialogue
University of Auckland
Auckland, New Zealand
Area of Study
Conservation, Ecology, Environmental Studies, Environmental Sustainability, Natural Sciences, Philosophy, Research, Social Ecology
Taught In English
It is expected students will have completed at least two full years at a four year instituion at time of participation.
The ideal candidate will have backgrounds in both philosophy and biology (or a related relevant major such as environmental science).
A key required skill is the ability to conduct cross-disciplinary research. The candidate must be comfortable reading a wide range of materials and extracting their central arguments or main points—and (when required) proactively doing further research to acquire the background needed to tackle the questions at hand. The ideal candidate will also have strong skills in independent research.
Course Level Recommendations
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Recommended U.S. Semester Credits3 - 4
Recommended U.S. Quarter Units4 - 6
Hours & Credits
Last year the New Zealand government announced its plan to achieve a “Predator Free New Zealand” by 2050, eradicating invasive mammalian species which threaten biological heritage. The problem of invasive species is widely acknowledged by conservationists around the world, as is the need to manage their spread and the threats they present to native species, ecosystems, and biodiversity. However, a global debate is taking place about what makes a species “invasive” in the first place. Scientific and regulatory definitions of ‘invasive species’ vary, and there is heated debate about just how much of a problem invasive species really are. Some conservationists argue that the problem has been overblown and invasive species are sometimes good for the ecosystems they invade; others argue that the demarcation between “native” and “non-native” species is arbitrary. Unlike many other debates in science, these arguments rest not only on disagreement about facts, but disagreement about fundamental values and attitudes towards the natural environment. This is giving rise to communication issues not only within conservation science, but between scientists and the public. This cross-disciplinary project will focus on investigating conceptual questions regarding the debate about invasive species, as well as their implications for science communication.
The UG researcher will conduct reviews of literature from biology, philosophy of biology, environmental science, environmental ethics, and related disciplines, and will prepare annotated bibliographies, written summaries and reports. Focal research questions will include (but not be limited to):
(1) What does the landscape of existing definitions of ‘invasive species’ look like; in particular, what are the core points of disagreement about how to define and characterise them? (This includes definitions used by scientists, governments and non-governmental conservation organisations, and philosophers and historians of science.)
(2) How can conservation biologists more effectively manage invasive species by communicating clearly (both amongst themselves and to the public) about these sorts of definitional and conceptual issues?
(3) Is there a global answer to Question (2), or are more local and context-specific answers needed? (For example, in New Zealand, where biological heritage and native species have a special significance, compared to contexts like North America and Europe, where humans have been living and impacting the natural environment for millennia).
(4) How does the way we conceptualise invasive species, and think about their impact, affect conservation aims (both within conservation biology and in dialogue with the public)—again with an eye to different countries, cultures, and contexts?
The researcher might also occasionally assist with other research tasks related to the activities of an Invasive Mammals Bioethics Panel, which the supervisor is organising in 2017 and 2018 with funding from the National Science Challenge for Biological Heritage.
Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.
Eligibility for courses may be subject to a placement exam and/or pre-requisites.
Please note that some courses with locals have recommended prerequisite courses. It is the student's responsibility to consult any recommended prerequisites prior to enrolling in their course.