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Monday, January 25 • 2:00pm - 2:20pm
Exotic Aquatic Plant Watch: Development and Evaluation of a Volunteer Monitoring Program For Aquatic Invasive Plant Species In Michigan Lakes

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AUTHORS: Angela De Palma – Dow*, Michigan State University; Jo A. Latimore, Michigan State University

ABSTRACT: The Exotic Aquatic Plant Watch (EAPW) is a specialized volunteer component of Michigan’s Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program. This citizen science program connects the public to their local aquatic resources and provides valuable aquatic invasive species data to local and state managers. Although public interest in the EAPW is great, evidenced by high attendance at annual training sessions, volunteer enrollment and completion rates were initially quite low. To address these concerns, we gathered volunteer feedback via surveys and visited volunteers on 31 lakes during 2013-2015 to identify barriers to enrollment and reporting and learned how program staff could improve volunteer participation and experience. Surveys revealed that the most common reason for not enrolling was the belief that monitoring was unnecessary if a professional plant management contractor had been hired for the lake and that many enrolled volunteers were failing to report negative results (e.g., reporting that no invasive plants were found during the volunteer survey). During lake visits we learned that many volunteers were unsure of how and where to sample, lacked confidence in correctly identifying plants and lacked a user-friendly Michigan-specific invasive aquatic plant resource. In response to these findings, we improved program promotion and improved the EAPW protocol and training. We also incorporated a new, Michigan-specific aquatic invasive plant field guide that is lightweight, small and water resistant. After applying these strategies to the program, we saw a 23% increase in lake enrollment and reporting rates almost doubled from 38% to 63% during 2011-2014. These results indicate that hands-on staff involvement, investment in training and resources and monitoring volunteer feedback are essential to increasing participation and reporting of aquatic invasive species. We plan to continue lake visits and partnering with the state to maintain and grow this important program.

Monday January 25, 2016 2:00pm - 2:20pm
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Attendees (12)