Distribution and impacts of established pest animals and weeds

Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), the science and economics division of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment conducts research on different topics, ranging from land use, fisheries , forests  , biosecurity , social sciences and more.

In the Biosecurity and Social Science program (BaSS), one of our research topics of interest seeks to understand the geographic distribution of established vertebrate pest animals and weeds , their economic impacts , and their direct and indirect non-market environmental and social impacts. There is presently no reliable, up-to-date national picture of the distribution and impacts of pest animals and weeds partly due to differing and fragmented approaches for pest animal and weeds data collection across Australia. Further, limited information and current estimates of invasive species impacts do not allow for meaningful comparisons between regions.

To address these information gaps, ABARES is currently working on three multi-year projects (funded by the Australian Government’s Established Pest Animal and Weed Management Pipeline Program):

  • national vertebrate pests and weeds distribution 
  • economic impacts of vertebrate pest animals and weeds in Australia
  • non-market environmental and social impacts of vertebrate pest animal and weed on Australian society

The three projects are independent but related, with a common goal to promote national level collation and sharing of distribution and impacts information. This will support more efficient allocation of resources leading to desired management outcomes for priority pest animals and weeds.

Source: ABARES

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National vertebrate pests and weeds distributions

The national vertebrate pests and weeds distribution project aims to understand and identify what is required to collate, build and maintain national distribution datasets for invasive species in Australia. The project involves 1) identifying, understanding, and documenting the type and extent of relevant data that are held by jurisdictions and other agencies; and 2) collaboration with CSIRO to develop and apply analytical modelling methods for presenting a reliable picture of national pest animal and weed distributions from disparate data sources. The methods will be developed using four initial case studies (feral pigs, feral deer, African boxthorn and gamba grass) producing a repeatable framework that can be then applied to other nationally significant invasive species. This project also aims to identify improvements to primary data collection and approaches to data coordination and sharing to support national integration of distribution data for invasive species.

The project addresses fundamental data gaps and challenges in creating nationally consistent, up-to-date maps of pest animals and weeds distributions for Australia. These include:

  • difficulties in making meaningful comparisons across state and territory or regional boundaries when integrating disparate datasets, due to invasive species data being collected using different methods and sampling protocols at varying geographic scales and time periods
  • geographic bias in how field-based data for widespread invasive species are collected, with the majority of these biased towards either control work targeted to areas of known occurrence, or towards areas of higher human population (e.g. citizen science-based observations or jurisdictional-based atlases).

This project is being conducted in collaboration with jurisdictions and other stakeholders, with the guidance of a project steering committee. The distribution data sets collated from this project will inform projects on the economic impacts of vertebrate pests and weeds in Australia and assessing non-market, environmental and social values of vertebrate pest animal and weed impacts on Australian society.

Economic impacts of vertebrate pest animals and weeds in Australia

Vertebrate pest animal and weed species cause significant positive and negative impacts on industry and significant resources are spent trying to reduce these impacts. Past studies have quantified impacts and expenditure, but there is a need to update the estimates by including more recent information on the relevant economic variables, damage-density relationships, and the spatial distribution of pests.

Updated estimates will raise general awareness of the scale of the problem and identify broad problem areas, draw attention to specific issues, and help formulate appropriate impact mitigation policies. They will also help to ensure better targeting of resource allocation for government co-investment projects.

This project broadly aims to estimate the economic impacts of pest animals and weeds in Australia as the sum of the monetary value of damages to agricultural production and public and private expenditure on management.

Specific objectives are to estimate:

  • agricultural production losses using up-to-date scientific information on the spatial distribution of pest animals and weeds, as well as biological impacts from recent literature and up-to-date economic information for affected industries.
  • national expenditure on pest animals and weeds management, administration, and research by government agencies and by regional groups such NRM bodies and local government agencies (LGAs), and by private landholders.

Source: ABARES

Non-market environmental and social impacts

Many pest animals and weeds cause significant impacts (both positive and negative) on the well-being of people through their direct and indirect effects on human health, biodiversity, society and ecosystem services and function. These impacts on society and the environment are not reflected in many of the observable market outcomes of the economy and cannot be measured in the same way as the production and cost effects, making it difficult to put a “price tag” on all the impacts that invasive species have in the community.

To date there has been limited research on understanding and measuring these non-market environmental and social values and impacts and little is understood about how decision-makers use this type of information.

This project broadly aims to determine the most appropriate approach to measure non-market environmental and social values and define how Australian society values the avoided impacts of pest animals and weeds, drawing on the economic impacts project and the distribution project where required.

Particular objectives are to:

  • understand the direct and indirect non-market environmental and social impacts that pest animals and weeds have on the Australian society (human health and welfare, biodiversity, society and environmental services and functions).
  • determine what non-market environmental and social values information is required to support decision-making in the management of pest animals and weeds, including decision-makers’ level of understanding and current use of non-market economic and social values.
  • describe and measure the non-market and environmental and social values resulting from the impacts of vertebrate pests and weeds.

Last reviewed: 6 September 2021
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