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A not so sudden impact—Historical relations between conifers and insects can help predict damage by nonnative insects

July 27, 2020

The arrival and establishment of nonnative insects in North America is increasingly problematic. International trade has created opportunities to move wood products and nursery stock worldwide, which has increased the risk of insect introduction to regions or countries where they are not native. One group of researchers, the High-impact Insect Invasions Working Group (HIIWG), has developed a predictive model that can be used to estimate the likelihood that a newly arriving nonnative insect may significantly impact North American conifers. The HIIWG examined several traits and factors associated with nonnative insects feeding on conifers (a conifer specialist) already established in North America. Using these data, the HIIWG identified which combination of factors best predicted the risk that a conifer specialist would have a high impact. The researchers then developed a statistical model to predict the probability that a conifer specialist yet to arrive in North America would cause significant damage to conifers if the insect became established. Using three factors, the model calculates the odds of any particular conifer specialist having a high impact on a North American conifer in a range between 1 in 6.5 to 1 in 2,858. This model is a valuable tool to help identify invading insects with the potential to be the most damaging if the insect becomes established in North America. In addition, application of tools like this model can increase positive environmental outcomes for land managers by focusing their efforts on conifer populations that are deemed most vulnerable to extensive mortality

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