Islander perceptions of invasive alien species: the role of socio-economy and culture in small isolated islands of French Polynesia (South Pacific).
Islands, often celebrated as natural laboratories for evolution and ecology, also provide unique experimental grounds for societal studies. Although biological invasions are widely recognised as one of the main causes of biodiversity erosion and a driver of global change, the human perception of invasive species may vary at regional and local levels, especially in societies with different levels of socio-economic development and cultures. This study was conducted in French Polynesia (South Pacific), a territory formed by 120 tropical and subtropical oceanic islands (76 being inhabited) divided into five archipelagos (Austral, Marquesas, Society, Tuamotu, and Gambier Is), comprising both highly populated and urbanised islands (such as Tahiti in the Society Is) and less populated and very small islands, sometimes very isolated (without airstrips) and where traditional life style and strong dependence on natural resources still persist. During an eight-month education and prevention campaign targeting alien plant and animal species legally declared invasive in French Polynesia, public meetings were organised on 19 small islands for a total of 2,045 consulted people in 41 different villages. Negative, positive and neutral comments made by participants on some invasive species present in their islands were recorded. Our results show that their perceived status differs from one archipelago to another, or even among islands in the same archipelago, with more positive comments (i.e. species benefits) on more isolated islands. Perception of invasiveness varied according to societal and cultural values (e.g. utilitarian or aesthetic), and often depends on the species' date of introduction ("indigenisation" of old introduced plants and animals). These surveys can provide useful baseline information on the degree to which local island communities are likely to support invasive species management, to get involved in prevention, surveillance and control efforts, and to avoid potential conflicts of interest between different stakeholders in small but sometimes complex insular societies.