We report on the scope and risks of an invasive species pathway linked with schools, science curricula, biological supply houses and aquaria/pet suppliers. To characterize the scope of the problem and explore solutions, surveyed 1,939 teachers from eight states and two provinces (FL, NY, IN, IL, OR, WA, CA, CT, Ontario and British Columbia), interviewed curriculum specialists, conducted 8 focus groups involving 84 teachers, surveyed and worked with biological supply houses . We evaluated the value teachers placed on live plants and animals in the classroom, teachers’ awareness and knowledge of invasive species, the organisms being used, sources of organisms, disposal methods, and potential solutions to unwanted introductions of non-native species.
We have characterized the invasive species in the classrooms pathway and found the pathway to be relevant and pervasive in the 10 states and provinces we studied, including the entire West Coast from Southern California into British Columbia. ). The survey of teachers revealed a high diversity of organisms used in classrooms from biological supply houses, nurseries, aquaria/pet stores, and school collections from the wild. In total ~1000 organisms were listed; some of the most frequently listed species by the teachers are known or potential AIS including elodea, crayfishes, amphibians, mosquito fish, red-eared slider turtles and other aquatic plants and snails. Approximately 25% of teachers indicated they released their organisms into the wild after use in the classroom. Of the teachers that reported releasing organisms, only 10.5 % participated in planned release programs, such as a salmon/trout classroom hatchery program. Aquarium and pet stores are sources for nearly 50% of organisms used in schools. The schools pathway cannot be addressed holistically without characterizing and developing solutions for the aquaria/pet store sub-pathway. Teachers are almost evenly split on whether they will euthanize animals used in classroom activities. We learned about the species diversity of organisms shipped by biological supply houses as part of science kits, surveyed and worked with biological suppliers on approaches to reduce the risks from invasive species. A pilot program by a biological supply house, substituting a native crayfish species in-lieu of non-natives has proven more challenging than expected, possibly due to our lack of knowlege in the husbandry of native species. Findings from this project have created a rare opportunity to address an entire invasive species pathway in an integrative and evaluative manner.