Invasive species have been widely documented to alter ecological processes that are linked to ecosystem services (hereafter ES[s]). To maintain current suites of ESs, communities often place a high priority on preventing the spread of invasive species. However, most invasive species benefit at least one ES, but have an overall negative impact on ES provisioning. This often results in groups establishing contrasting viewpoints regarding invasive species management. Which has become a major issue in sustainability science, because successful invasive species management requires high levels of public support and awareness. Here we focus on the invasion of juniper (Juniperus spp.) into grasslands, which in the Southern Great Plains, has resulted in major ES losses. Controlling juniper invasion will continue to be a major challenge in the Great Plains given the history of juniper planting and fire suppression. Our objectives were to (1) document the public’s opinion toward juniper invasion and management in Nebraska—a region undergoing invasion—and (2) assess the changes in ESs when a grassland shifts to a juniper woodland. To meet these objectives, we surveyed Nebraskans opinions towards juniper invasion across the state and from scientific literature and reports, we synthesized the impact of juniper invasion on ES.
Findings here indicate a serious disconnect between the public’s perception of juniper invasion and the documented impacts on ESs. Only 36% of the public viewed juniper trees as an issue in Nebraska, whereas 44% did not. Interestingly, respondents living on farms were more likely to view junipers trees as an issue, while respondents living in cities were less likely to view juniper trees as an issue. Primary ES losses at the ecosystem scale was a loss in native biodiversity (plants, small mammals and birds), a loss of wildfire suppression potential, reductions in stream flow at the watershed and basin level and up to a 99% loss in herbaceous forage. Losses of herbaceous forage alone is associated with the loss of meat production, associated income, jobs and in Nebraska, school funding. The lack of public support documented here represents a major obstacle that must be overcome before juniper invasion can be effectively controlled. Impacts of invasive species are often exacerbated without public support for costly or controversial management. Therefore, education campaigns that increase science literacy of invasive species and their impacts represent a critical aspect of invasive species management.