- Systematic Review Protocol
- Open Access
The effectiveness of non-native fish eradication techniques in freshwater ecosystems: a systematic review protocol
© The Author(s) 2016
- Received: 19 January 2016
- Accepted: 2 June 2016
- Published: 20 June 2016
This systematic review will address the need for having a better understanding of the evidence-base for the effectiveness of different management techniques focussed on the eradication of non-native fish species in the freshwater environment. Many resource management agencies around the world attempt to eradicate non-native fish species to achieve management goals with respect to ecological integrity. There is a need to better understand the effectiveness of each management technique to provide resource managers with the information necessary to effectively manage aquatic resources, and to choose the best technique to yield desired outcomes given different ecological and biological conditions. The findings of this systematic review will inform evidence-based management and conservation activities for resource managers around the globe that deal with non-native fish eradication programs.
This systematic review will search for, compile, summarize, and synthesize evidence on the effectiveness of fisheries management techniques used for the eradication of non-native fish species in global freshwater systems. The review will use public search engines and specialist websites, and will include both primary and grey literature. All studies that assess the effectiveness of a fish eradication technique, in freshwater, will be included in the review. Potential effect modifiers will be identified to obtain a better understanding of the factors that affect the success of different eradication techniques, given different environmental conditions and biological factors. Study quality will be assessed to allow for critical evaluation, including study design, confounding factors and statistical analysis. Data will be compiled into a narrative synthesis and a meta-analysis will be conducted where data availability and quality allow.
- Alien invasive species
- Nonindigenous species
- Invasive species
- Invasion biology
- Evidence-based policy
In aquatic systems, biological invasions can result in adverse ecological effects [1, 2]. Invasive species threaten biodiversity [3–5] and impose considerable economic costs , placing increased demands on policy-makers, resource managers, and scientists . The introduction and spread of invasive species can occur by natural or human pathways and can include: shipping networks and canals [8, 9], escapes from aquaculture, aquaria and ornamental trade , stocking (including authorized and unauthorized attempts), recreational boating, live food trade, as well as sport fish and baitfish introductions, which may be deliberate or accidental. Additionally, the secondary spread of introduced species poses challenges for resource managers [11–13].
Options for managing non-native fish species can include no action, control and/or containment, population extirpation, and/or species eradication . Containment, such as implementing barriers, is typically the most desirable tactic to prevent the spread of non-native species into novel environments [15–18]. However, where containment is not possible or has not been successful, eradication has been proposed as a valid option for managing biological invasions [19, 20]. Eradication is the elimination of whole fish populations or fish species from distinct habitats or bodies of water . Eradication approaches tend to be targeted, for example, by exploiting vulnerable periods in the life cycle [22, 23] or by focusing on areas of high abundance .
The types of fish management techniques available to resource managers to implement eradication programs can vary widely. They can include chemicals, harvest regimes, physical removal, or biological control . The effectiveness of chemical eradication (e.g., rotenone, Fintrol) depends on environmental conditions (e.g., water temperature, depth, pH, discharge, target fish species, hydrology, substrate composition, areas of groundwater recharge; ); there are also concerns of collateral damage when non-target species are affected by chemical treatments . Harvest regimes can include intentional over-fishing (e.g., gill netting, angling) of target species [28–30] or modification of angling regulations (e.g., favour overharvest of target species). Physical removal techniques can include traps, electrofishing, and/or netting programs while biological controls can include the introduction of predators, intraspecific manipulation, or targeted pathological reactions . When implementing fish management programs, risk analysis is required to help decide when management strategies should be utilized, what strategy should be chosen, and what the likelihood of success of different strategies are . The risk analysis includes identification and assessments of hazards, including predicting the likelihood and severity of adverse effects .
The success of non-native fish management approaches can vary greatly depending on the management objectives for the project: whether control, eradication, removal or containment (amongst others) was the ultimate goal of the project. As can be expected given the complexities of the natural environment, success can be difficult to quantify and some approaches can be unsuccessful despite best efforts [7, 19, 25]. Failure of non-native fish eradication techniques can occur due to a number of factors, including (but not limited to) ineffective capture techniques (e.g., size-specific efficiencies), habitat complexity (e.g., areas of refuge, plant density), species-specific factors (e.g., size, habitat preferences), and physical water properties (e.g., water chemistry, temperature, water depth; ). Determining the outcomes of management interventions, especially when restoration of freshwater ecosystems is a goal (i.e., to eradicate non-native target fish species from a specific waterbody), requires long-term evaluation and assessment in relation to meeting the objectives [19, 25, 34]. Post-program evaluation and assessment is required not only to determine the effectiveness of techniques but also to explore the cost-effectiveness and cost/benefit of each strategy. Narrative syntheses, meta-analyses and systematic reviews can be valuable approaches to determine broad-scale effectiveness of how management interventions can be effective and to identify future research needs.
The objective of the systematic review is to evaluate the existing literature base to assess the effectiveness of different non-native fish eradication methods in global freshwater environments. The purpose of the review is not to question whether or not the eradication of a target species is an appropriate objective, but simply to evaluate the effectiveness of each technique for eradicating the target species in a desired freshwater body (including both lakes and rivers).
What is the effectiveness of non-native fish eradication techniques in freshwater ecosystems and what effects do the various sources of potential heterogeneity have on the outcome?
Components of the primary question
- Subject (population):
Non-native freshwater fish
Fish eradication method
No intervention or alternative method
Magnitude of decreased abundance relative to control or eradication of target fish species.
To what extent does effectiveness vary with eradication technique (e.g., electrofishing, piscicides, unlimited recreational catch limits)?
What other strategies/techniques are being employed but are under-represented in the evidence and literature base?
What factors (e.g., type and size of water body, species, elevation, time since invasion/introduction, ecoregion) influence the effectiveness of each type of eradication method and in what context is each technique most effective?
Proposed search string for the execution of the search strategy
Fish eradication method
Synonyms and permutations
When a complex search string is not accepted by the search engine, the help menu will be consulted and the search terms will be modified. The search terms will be recorded in the article databases in order to preserve all metadata associated with the search.
The search will include a variety of article types, including primary literature in peer-reviewed journals and grey literature. The search strategy will strive to minimize publication biases by focussing efforts equally on each article type and putting equal weight on the information provided in each article type.
The search will not have any document type restrictions (e.g., PDF vs. MS-PowerPoint vs. MS-Word). All formats will be acquired and if specialized software is required, alternative formats will be requested for ease of file transferability. Where books are identified, digital copies will be sought (either through internet searches for availability or requests to authors) in order to ensure that all obtainable records are made available as an output from this review.
The browsing history and cookies will be disabled on all computers used to conduct the search. The members of the Review Team will not access any electronic accounts (e.g., email, website) during the search period and will use “private mode” (Safari) for web browsers to reduce the possibility of user-specific search results.
English search terms will be used to conduct all searches in all databases. All references that are returned will be included in the database. When articles in other languages are returned using the search strategy, those records will be reported in the database.
Waves (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)—Canadian government books, reports, government documents, theses, conference proceedings and journal titles
Index to Theses Online—Dissertations and theses from the UK & Ireland
Science.gov—U.S. Federal Science
ISI Web of Science core collection—Multidisciplinary research topics including journals, books, proceedings, published data sets, and patents
Scopus—Abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature including journals, books, and conference proceedings.
Atlantic Salmon Federation
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
Convention on Biological Diversity
Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Desert Fishes Council
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Fisheries Research Service
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Joint Nature Conservation Committee
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research
National Park Service
Natural Resources Canada
Natural Resources Wales
Northern Ireland Environment Agency
Pacific Salmon Foundation
The Nature Conservancy
United Nations Environment Programme
US Forest Service
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Western Native Trout Initiative
World Wide Fund for Nature
World Wildlife Fund.
Other literature searches
Reference sections of accepted articles will be hand searched to evaluate relevant titles, symposium papers, and other articles that have not been found using the search strategy. Authors of any unpublished references will be contacted to request access to the full article. Stakeholders will be consulted for insight and advice for new sources of information.
The Review Team will contact authors of unobtainable articles in an attempt to gain access to the full article. We will also use social media to alert the community of this systematic review and to reach out to area experts for research articles that are difficult to obtain, or for suggestions of articles to include. Any article provided will also be used to test the comprehensiveness of our search strategy and, where appropriate, adjustments will be made to the search strategy to make sure it is comprehensive and inclusive. Any changes made to the search strategy will be justified and documented in the final review document.
Search record database
All articles generated by each of the search strategies will be exported into separate EndNote databases. After all searches have been completed and references found using each different strategy have been compiled, the individual databases will be merged into an overall EndNote database library. Duplicates will be identified. All references regardless of their perceived relevance to this systematic review will be included in the database. This database will act as the archive and will remain unchanged throughout the review process, since it is the direct product of the search strategy and will be useful in the future when updating the systematic review archive (general updating timeframe is currently every 5 years).
Article screening and study inclusion criteria
Screening process and inclusion criteria
Articles found using the search criteria will be screened in three distinct stages; title, abstract and full text.
Before the screening process begins, two reviewers using a subset of 10 % of all articles or 100 abstracts (whichever is bigger) will undertake consistency checks to ensure consistent and repeatable decisions are being made in regards to which articles get screened out and which go on in the process to be further reviewed. The two reviewers will use a Kappa test to determine consistencies in screening decisions. A Kappa score of ≥0.6 indicates substantial agreement between reviewers and will be required to be achieved before any further screening is conducted for the review. The results from the consistency check will be discussed and discrepancies will be reviewed by both reviewers to understand why the choice was made to include/exclude the article.
All article screening decisions will be included in the database, so it will be clear at what level any article was excluded. If the decision to include or exclude a specific article is unclear, that article will be retained and will go on to the next level of screening. If there is further doubt, the Review Team will discuss those articles as a group to come up with a decision. Any articles that do not have abstracts (as is the case for some grey literature), those articles will automatically be screened at the full text level. Justification of the reason for inclusion or exclusion of an article will be explained and recorded in the article database, and all articles excluded at the full text level will be included with the review, in compliance with CEE guidelines.
Description of inclusion criteria used by the Review Team when screening articles at the title and abstract level
Type of criteria
Description of inclusion criteria
Freshwater ecosystems, including both lakes and rivers that contain non-native fish species
Relevant types of interventions
Article describes the type of eradication method used in an attempt to eradicate a fish species. Eradication method can include: mechanical, chemical, biological, environmental or other
Relevant types of comparators
An external control site: similar waterbodies with no intervention (i.e., waterbodies with non-native fish present but have not had any fish management projects conducted in them), before intervention control site within same waterbody, or an alternative intervention type conducted on the same waterbody
Relevant types of outcomes
Measured effect of treatment. Reported measured effect can be quantitative or observational and generally should indicate some change in abundance of target species relative to before treatment or control
Relevant types of study designs
Given the complexity of eradication projects, all types of study designs will be examined, including but not limited to:
Randomized controlled trial (RCT)
Studies that do not do or report any before or after assessments following the implementation of an eradication effort will be excluded from the review (i.e., studies where no data is presented that would allow for any assessment of a change in abundance of the target species following eradication efforts)
Study quality assessment
Study setting—Lab or field
Study design (BA/CI/BACI/RCT)
Temporal extent of study
Replication—Replicated or unreplicated
Confounding factors—Present, not present, unclear, and whether they were accounted for in the study
Clarity of objectives in relation to methods used (e.g., is the ultimate type of management intervention objective clearly identified, including eradication, controlling, containing etc.)
Use of (and number of) control and reference sites
Effort devoted to eradication techniques (e.g., press versus pulse, proportional area treated)
Statistical methods used in assessment of success (e.g., were results analysed statistically?)
Accounting for and/or identifying potential effect modifiers (see list in following sections).
Data extraction strategy
Metadata will be extracted from the included studies by the Review Team and will be recorded in a MS-Excel database that will be made available with the published systematic review article, as an additional supporting file. The extracted information will be used to assess the overall effectiveness of each intervention strategy, and when sufficient, good quality data exists, the information will be used in a meta-analysis. Some of the outcome data that will be recorded will include: outcome means, measures of variation (e.g., standard deviation, standard error, confidence intervals), and sample sizes. When data is presented in tables or graphs, all information will be extracted and recorded. If it is not possible to decipher information from graphs, the main contact author for the article will be contacted (via email or phone) by the Review Team to request the information. During that request, the Review Team will also solicit the author to suggest any grey literature that they may know of related to the systematic review topic. Where only raw data is provided in the article, the Review Team will calculate summary statistics. In those instances, it will be recorded in the MS-Excel database how the calculations were done and with what information. To ensure that data is being extracted in a consistent and repeatable manner, two reviewers will extract information from 10 of the same articles. Afterwards, the information will be compared. Any inconsistencies will be discussed amongst the Review Team members, and if any disagreement occurs, they will be discussed with the entire Review Team to ensure all reviewers are extracting and interpreting data in the same manner.
Potential effect modifiers and reasons for heterogeneity
The Review Team will extract data on potential effect modifiers (see Table 3) from articles that are included at the full-text level of screening. All information will be recorded in the MS-Excel database.
Data extraction table
Unique code given to each study (i.e., linked articles given same code)
Unique code given to each manuscript
Name of authors
All email address of main contact
Year of manuscript publication
Full reference (as extracted from relevant database)
Publication format (e.g., book chapter, journal paper, conference paper, thesis, organisation report)
Article abstract or summary (if provided)
Author affiliation type
Author affiliation (e.g., academic institution, government, consulting, NGO)
Article access notes
Any issues associated with accessing the full article (e.g., were the authors contacted?)
Article format e.g., PDF, Microsoft Word file, HTML
Country(ies) in which study undertaken
Region(s) in which study undertaken
Lab or field-based
Name of waterbodies included in study
Lake, river, reservoir, pond etc.
Record how it is reported in the article, including units
E.g., permanent, intermittent
Canopy cover (%)
E.g., silt, sand, gravel, cobble, rubble, bedrock
Vectors for introduction
If discussed in article
Open or closed system
Manmade or natural system
Easy (e.g., canal in city), moderate (e.g., river in national park), difficult (e.g., high alpine lake)
History of biomanipulation?
Extent population is established
If discussed in article
Target species metadata
Fish species name
Fish species scientific name
Migratory or non-migratory
Life history strategy
E.g., anadromous, semelparous, iteroparous
Target age class
Age at maturity
Relative abundance of target species (pre-intervention)
Change in abundance of target species, before intervention (e.g., CPUE)
Date: project start
Date: project end
Duration of study
Period between intervention and study
Was there any pre-monitoring that occurred? If yes, describe
Was there any post-monitoring that occurred? If yes, describe
What season did the study take place? Describe all if occurred over many seasons
Brief description of study
Eradication method type
Mechanical, chemical, biological, environmental, other
Eradication method details
Mechanical method type, type of chemical used, name of introduced biological control etc.
Will vary depending on method used (e.g., electrofishing time, fishing time, area treated)
Number of fish removed
Report the total number of fish removed. Can separate number of fish removed live versus dead, depending on eradication method type
Level of methodological detail; low (very little detail, significant information missing), medium (some detail missing but generally sufficient), high (very high level of detail, no obvious information lacking)
Brief description (summary or quotation) of study methodology
Intervention type rationale
How/why were the intervention types selected?
i.e., observation, experimentation, modeled
If discussed in article
Number of replicates, if applicable
Presence of randomization, if applicable
Sources of potential bias
Description of other potential sources of bias
Relative abundance of target species (post-intervention), over time
Change in abundance of target species, after intervention (e.g., CPUE), over time. Report the duration that the abundance was monitored for (e.g., 1 week post intervention, 6 months, 1 year etc.)
If discussed in article
Change in species composition
If discussed in article, the change in species composition in the waterbody
Change in biomass of target species
Change in size of target species
If discussed in article, the change in target species size over time, after eradication efforts (e.g., total length, mass, proportion of catch within a specific size range)
Statistical results of effectiveness measure
Was the effectiveness assessed statistically? If yes, report
Social factors metadata
Social risk factors
Did project consultation occur for this project? (Y/N)
Social risk factors—Details
If yes, describe (e.g., public meetings, media released)
Linked article metadata
Paper ID of articles describing results of same study. This is especially important to look at overall success rates for projects that are reported over several different publications
Additional article details
Further description of relationship with other articles
Data synthesis and presentation
A narrative synthesis of data from all articles included in the systematic review will be generated. The synthesis will aim to be as visual as possible, summarizing information in tables and figures. The ultimate goal of this review is to assess the effectiveness of each different eradication technique and to identify the factors that influence the overall success rate of each type of method, in order to better inform management agencies who routinely have to decide when, where and how non-native fish eradication programs should be implemented. All efforts will be made to provide quantitative assessments and meta-analysis of the articles included in this review, when the study designs and evidence-base allow. The review team has conducted some scoping exercises, particularly to help develop an efficient search strategy and to get a sense of the existing literature base. When doing so, the review team got the sense that sufficient evidence may exist to allow them to conduct a meta-analysis on some intervention types, but it is unlikely that a meta-analysis may be possible for all intervention types. It will also depend on the literature base for each target species. Sufficient evidence may exist for some more common target (problem) species but not for more regionally-relevant species.
All authors participated in the drafting, revision, and approval of the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors would like to thank several reviewers and collaborators who provided valuable insights to strengthen this review protocol including: Robert Britton (Bournemouth University, UK), David Browne (Canadian Wildlife Federation, CA), Robert Gresswell (United States Geological Survey, USA), and Mark Lintermans (University of Canberra, AU), and Parks Canada staff including Kent Prior, Marlow Pellatt, Mark Taylor, Bill Hunt, Chantal Vis, Scott Parker, and Shelley Humphries. The study was supported by Parks Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canada Research Chairs Program and the Carleton University Research Excellence Fund.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
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