Engaging Florida's youth to increase their knowledge of invasive species and plant biosecurity.
Invasive species are causing problems globally due to substantial economic losses, decreased biodiversity, human health hazards, and disruption of native ecosystems. Concerning agriculture, it is estimated that the United States losses nearly $120 billion annually to the impacts of invasive pests. Florida is at high risk for the introduction and establishment of invasive species due to its multiple climate zones and geographic location. Yet, the general public, and especially youth in Florida, do not understand the need for the early detection and eradication of invasive species, since these concepts are not typically integrated into classroom curricula. An informed public audience begins by providing improved educational opportunities to youth. Over the 2-yr project, interactive outreach presentations were delivered to 30 classrooms in 10 schools throughout Florida to raise awareness of invasive species and the necessity of plant biosecurity. Prior knowledge of students and project effectiveness were evaluated using pre- and post-surveys based on classroom presentations. The outreach events significantly increased students' understanding of invasive species and the importance of plant biosecurity.