The ecosystem services (ESs) concept has become an effective tool for quantifying and communicating human dependence on biodiversity. Understanding stakeholder valuation of ESs, and perceptions of threats to their conservation, can improve planning for urban protected areas. In Toronto, Canada, Rouge National Urban Park (NUP) provides a suite of important ESs, yet many of those ESs are threatened by the advancement of the non-indigenous invasive species, Vincetoxicum rossicum. The aim of our study was to: 1) assess the distribution, within a stakeholder group (Park users), of ES valuations for an urban protected area; and 2) determine whether “ecological engagement” affects ES valuation and perceptions of V. rossicum’s impact on the provisioning of ESs. Here, ecological engagement (EE) has been operationalized as a user’s awareness of V. rossicum (n=324; EE: n=178, non-EE: n=146). To do this, we surveyed park users in Rouge NUP, which is highly invaded by V. rossicum. To address our objectives, we: i) rank the importance placed by Park users on ESs provided by the Park; ii) examine the relative ability of Park user’s ecological engagement to predict valuation of ESs, and iii) examine Park user perception of the impact of V. rossicum on the provisioning of ESs.
The overall value placed on nearly all of the ESs derived from the Park was significantly higher for ecologically engaged (EE) Park users as compared to non- EE users, yet both groups ranked climate regulation, carbon storage and agricultural production as the least important. Interestingly, non-EE users tended to give recreation (a ‘cultural’ ES) the highest importance value. Conversely, EE users tended to assign pollination (a ‘supporting’ ES), the highest importance. Regarding perception of the impacts of V. rossicum, we were surprised to find that 15.2% of EE Park users and 38.4% of non-EE disagreed or were neutral to the notion that V. rossicum is having a negative impact on the Park’s ecological functioning. Similarly, 32% of EE Park users and 54.1% of non-EE Park users disagreed or were neutral to the notion that V. rossicum is having a negative impact on the Park’s aesthetics. This finding is representative of the challenges facing local conservation practitioners with respect to the communication of local ecological issues. We conclude that examination of EE can reveal differential ES valuations and perceptions of the impact of invasive species. Furthermore, we believe such examination can inform conservation management plans and public engagement strategies.