When an invasive species gets introduced to a new ecosystem, its disruption can cost millions — sometimes billions — of dollars.That economic impact has been the focus of Dr. Jonathan Bossenbroek, UT associate professor of ecology, who received a Fulbright Scholarship to do his research at the University of West Indies at St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago.
Bossenbroek said what he looks forward to most is networking with other ecologists and economists on an international level. While in the West Indies, he will work closely with an agricultural economist to analyze the spread and economic impact of invasive species, including the lionfish and the green mussel.
“Some invasive species have negative economic impacts, and they’re often hard to quantify,” Bossenbroek said. “Understanding how these species impact the overall economy will give strength to the argument that we need to be more careful about moving species around.”
Bossenbroek has seen firsthand the impact an invasive species can have on an ecosystem with the zebra mussel in the Great Lakes and the emerald ash borer throughout the Midwest and beyond. One area of research where he hopes to get more involved is the economic distress caused by these species, in order to encourage prevention.
“It’s much easier to understand the cost once they show up and are doing damages, but spending money on prevention is risky,” Bossenbroek said. “You’re spending that money ahead of time and you don’t really see the benefit except that the organism doesn’t show up.”
In addition to furthering research, Bossenbroek hopes to develop a new class for UT during his sabbatical in the Caribbean. He will work with faculty at the University of West Indies at St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago to create a course for both universities with a mix of ecology and economy based on his research.
Bossenbroek will travel with his wife and three sons, ages 5, 9 and 12. He is excited about exposing his children to a new culture and expanding their view of the world.
“It’ll be quite an adventure,” Bossenbroek said.
He and his family leave in August and will be in the Caribbean through the academic year.