Public opinions and perceptions of peri-urban plant invasion: the role of garden waste disposal in forest fragments.
Horticulture is an important source of alien plant species that could potentially escape the garden fence, survive in nature, reproduce abundantly and finally became harmful to natural ecosystems (i.e. invasive). Additionally, residential garden owners promote the invasion of alien species by dumping garden waste in nature. A surprisingly high number of garden waste deposits was found in lowland peri-urban forest fragments in NE Slovenia. A positive relationship between proximity to these deposits and the number of alien plant species originative from discarded plants has been observed. This fact encouraged us to assess public knowledge of and opinions about invasive alien plant species (IAP), the public's habits in managing garden waste disposal and thus their awareness of promoting invasions. We conducted a questionnaire-based survey shared among various interest groups on social media platforms in Slovenia. Our results showed relatively good knowledge among respondents about IAPs. Over half the respondents were able to list at least one IAP. The most frequently listed IAP was Ambrosia artemisiifolia, followed by Solidago sp. and Fallopia sp. More than 10% of respondents who own a private residential garden confirmed our assumption that they discarded garden waste in the natural environment - in nearby forests. Respondents who were aware that such an approach could present a possible threat of promoting IAPs were less likely to discard garden waste in forests. According to respondents' socio-demographic status, we hypothesize that overall public awareness of promoting IAPs by discarding garden waste in forests is probably lower than our survey response showed. Findings of this study should be used to improve awareness among the general public about IAPs and possible unintentional introduction paths and dispersal of IAPs, caused by inappropriate garden waste management. In the near future, more activities to improve awareness must be carried out. Our proposal is supported by the opinion of our respondents; 79% of them perceive their knowledge about IAPs as insufficient.