Invasive species threaten the balance of all ecosystems. In island ecosystems, native species have evolved in isolation, unequipped to fend off new invasive predators, and risk extinction without space to which to retreat. As a result, Department of Defense (DoD) managers with responsibility for protecting Pacific Islands face big challenges. Dr. Haldre Rogers and her research team at Rice University are focusing on the forests in Guam under their SERDP project, where the existence of the invasive brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) complicates strategic mobility and land management. This snake has had a particularly devastating impact on bird species, which play an important role in seed dispersal that sustains the island forests.
These researchers are building knowledge that sheds light on these challenges through an interactive board game, almost a “Kriegspiel” that place players in the decision-making process to protect Guam and maximize biodiversity in the presence of invasive predators. At the 2019 SERDP and ESTCP Symposium, postdoctoral researcher Hugo Thierry demonstrated the game and challenged attendees to face the situations encountered when attempting to meet the island needs.
In the game, really a role-playing model, the players are enlisted to work together to determine how best to spend the resources provided to protect and reintroduce wildlife in Guam. Each round consists of an event to which the team must respond within five minutes. Depending on the situation, players make a variety of choices: manage invasive species populations, protect native species by installing structures that contain invasive species, relocate native species to different areas of the island, or reintroduce species to the island to increase biodiversity. Each choice alters the island ecosystem and resources available and may create unintended consequences that the following team must tackle during the next turn.
The game provides an informative, hands-on vehicle for simulating situations natural resource managers confront when working to conserve island ecosystems. While the game is an excellent way of transferring this knowledge to the general public, the research team’s findings will ultimately result in a “User’s Guide” for DoD natural resource managers to weigh the costs and benefits of different restoration approaches.