Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Species: Understanding Attitudes and Risk Perceptions

This project will aim to better describe public understanding and attitudes towards the use of advanced genetic modification techniques as control tools for invasive species. To thoroughly address the purpose, this research must investigate attitudes towards these techniques within the context of specifically understanding attitudes toward the invasive species and their impacts. 

A web-based survey will evaluate Minnesotans’ attitudes and risk perceptions related to the use of genetic modification techniques for the control of invasive species. Very little is known about public attitudes or risk perceptions concerning the use of genetic modifications for aquatic invasive species control. Although a robust literature concerning the human and social dimensions of invasive species management and governance has been developed, there is limited research specific to the use of genetic techniques to control invasive species. This study will addresses that gap in research. This study represents a crucial upstream evaluation of public attitudes and perceptions that will enable subsequent engagement to develop governance in the use of genetic technology for these purposes in Minnesota.

This project will provide baseline information about Minnesota residents’ attitudes and risk perceptions toward genetic modification techniques as an approach for managing aquatic invasive species. The outcomes of this study include improving knowledge of the preferences and risk perceptions of using these techniques among the general population of Minnesota, tribal communities, and specific stakeholder and user groups such as anglers and boaters in the state. The focus will be on attitudes and risk perceptions toward using genetic modification to help control invasive species in general as well as two specific, widespread invasive species: common carp and zebra mussels.

In addition, the project will help clarify the social psychological antecedents and consequences of these attitudes and risk perceptions. Focus groups and interviews will be used to assist survey design, and researchers will use mixed-modal surveys with web-based data collection. Researchers will also implement a discrete choice experiment within the survey to better understand the attributes driving choices concerning the use of genetic technology. A total of 3,200 surveys are targeted for completion from the Minnesota general public, lakeshore homeowners, anglers, and boaters.


1) to understand the attitudes, risk perceptions, and level of support for using genetic techniques in controlling two invasive aquatic species in Minnesota (e.g., common carp and zebra mussel);

2) to understand the antecedents/consequences to attitudes, risk perceptions, and level of support for using genetic techniques in these two specific cases;

3) to understand the general preferences for using genetic techniques in the management of invasive species in Minnesota, the antecedents/consequences of these preferences, and the population heterogeneity related to these preferences;

4) to explore and gain an initial understanding of potential concerns of tribal communities in Minnesota with using genetic techniques for invasive species control.


After a national search, the PI, Dr. Fulton, identified and recruited a PhD student with a strong background in invasive species and invasive species management and the social sciences to work on the project, Kiley Davan. Kiley has matriculated into the PhD program in Conservation Sciences, relocated to the Twin Cities from the University of Tennessee, and she will formally join the project effective August 1, 2021. The delay in student recruitment into the project has shifted the project timeline by 6 months, but the team has begun to make progress in study design. 

Researchers have started preliminary design of the web-based surveys using information from a review of literature that Kiley conducted during the spring of 2021, prior to her formally joining the project. They have also initiated organization and implementation of interviews and focus groups to inform the content of the surveys.  They have scheduled initial survey design meetings with key partners from the Minnesota DNR.

Project manager: David Fulton

Funded by: Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources

Project start date: Jan. 2021

Project end date: Dec. 2022