Spatio-temporal dynamics and drivers of public interest in invasive alien species.
Understanding the dynamics of public interest in invasive alien species (IAS) is important for the establishment of effective strategies to prevent their spread and mitigate the negative social impacts thereof. Our knowledge of this topic is still limited, however, largely because of the difficulty in collecting data regarding public interest in IAS at a sufficiently large scale and for a long period. Here, we use relative search volume (RSV) on Google as a proxy of the general public's interest in IAS and investigate its spatio-temporal distributions and drivers in Japan. We analyzed the data for 31 major IAS in Japan and found that the spatial distribution of RSV was predicted by both the actual distribution of IAS and the number of news articles featuring these species. Path analyses revealed that the presence of IAS increased RSV both directly and indirectly thorough an increase in the total number of news articles in local newspapers. Also, time-series analysis of the RSV for serial invasion of Solenopsis invicta, a recently detected IAS in Japan, demonstrated that the local RSV for this species increased sharply after the official announcement of its invasion was made. Overall, our study demonstrates that public interest in IAS varies greatly both spatially and temporally, and this variation was predicted by both ecological and social factors associated with IAS. Understanding the patterns of variation in public interest in IAS and its key drivers should help us to design more responsive and effective strategies to control these species.