Weeds on the web: conflicting management advice about an invasive non-native plant.
Invasive non-native plants (INNPs) can have serious and widespread negative ecological and socio-economic impacts. It is therefore important they are managed appropriately. Within domestic gardens management decisions, which will tend to be made by individual members of the public, are likely to vary depending on (a) understanding of problems caused by INNP, and (b) knowledge of best practice. Using content analysis, an approach seldom employed in an ecological context, this study analysed variation in internet-based information sources regarding INNP to determine how this collective discourse might influence risk perceptions and management decisions for domestic garden owners/managers. We used Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica in the UK, as a case study, as it is one of the most ecologically and economically damaging INNP in the region. Our analysis categorized the types of author disseminating information about Japanese knotweed, the relative frequency of documents between author categories, and variation in content and style between and within author categories. We identified five author categories: environmental NGOs, control companies, government, media and the property market. There was extensive variation in document structure, topics discussed, references and links to other sources, and language style; sometimes this variation was between author categories and sometimes within author categories. The most significant variation in topics discussed between author categories was indirect socio-economic problems, with control companies discussing these most. The number of pieces of legislation referenced and the proportion of militaristic words used were also highly significantly different between author categories. Some documents used neutral terminology and were more circumspect, whilst others were more forceful in expressing opinions and sensational. The author category returning the highest number of documents was the subcategory local government, the shortest of which contained neither links to other information nor referenced any organizations. Further analysis of local government documents revealed conflicting advice regarding the disposal of Japanese knotweed waste material; confusion about this topic could result in decisions being made that spread Japanese knotweed further and are potentially unlawful. The potential implications of our findings for the management of INNP in domestic gardens and societal perceptions of risks posed by INNP are discussed. Synthesis and applications. To help prevent inappropriate management of invasive non-native plants (INNPs), for example Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica in domestic gardens, we recommend that local and national authorities collaborate and work towards disseminating more consistent messages about (a) the potential socio-economic and ecological problems caused by INNP, whilst avoiding hyperbole, and (b) the most appropriate management techniques.