The Potential U.S. Economic Cost of a New Sweetgum-Killing Pest
It’s never too early to work toward preventing the arrival of a potentially destructive invasive species. That’s why researchers at the University of Florida have developed a model to estimate the possible financial cost to the American forestry sector of a newly discovered beetle in China, should it arrive on U.S. shores.
The beetle, first reported in May, is a yet-to-be-named species of the genus Acanthotomicus, which was found to have infested and killed more than 10,000 American sweetgum trees around Shanghai, China, in the past decade. Among those studying the bark-boring species, it has earned the early nickname “sweetgum inscriber.”
As you might suspect, American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is a common tree species in the United States, with a native range from Connecticut through Central Florida and westward to eastern Texas. It makes up about 11 percent of the hardwood timber volume in the southern United States. Thus, should sweetgum inscriber hitch a ride in a cargo shipment from China to the U.S. and make its way into American forests, it could impose a significant financial cost.
In a paper published today in the Journal of Economic Entomology, researchers led by Andres Susaeta, Ph.D., at the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida, offer a range of estimates for the potential financial impact of the sweetgum inscriber.
At the high end, if no preventative measures are taken against sweetgum inscriber’s arrival, sweetgum plantation owners could face $151.9 million in total future losses ($4.6 million annually), according to Susaeta and colleagues’ calculations, which accounted for various economic factors in the commercial sweetgum sector and how they would be affected by the pest’s invasion.
“These results can be used to assess the value of damage-mitigation efforts by landowners, such as planting different tree species or reducing rotation length,” says Susaeta. “These findings can also help inform policy decisions, such as the assessment of investing (or not) in proactive measures that reduce the arrival of this wood boring beetle.”
In scenarios in which the United States effectively follows practices according to International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures 15—such as port inspections, fines for transportation of contaminated material, and re-exportation of contaminated cargo—the reduced likelihood of arrival of sweetgum inscriber would reduce potential commercial sweetgum losses accordingly.
Susaeta and colleagues stress, however, that their model only examines commercial sweetgum impacts; further research could estimate other costs, such as the reduction of ecosystem services in urban forests and tree-removal expenses.
Journal of Economic Entomology