The Potential U.S. Economic Cost of a New Sweetgum-Killing Pest

sweetgum inscriber larvae

A newly discovered species of wood-boring beetle in the genus Acanthotomicus—nicknamed “sweetgum inscriber,” for the damage its larvae cause to its host, the American sweetgum tree—could be costly to the U.S. forestry sector, if it were to arrive in the United States. Researchers estimate the pest could cost growers up to $4.6 million annually. (Photo originally published in “Acanthotomicus sp. (Coleoptera: Curculionidae: Scolytinae), a New Destructive Insect Pest of North American Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua in China,” Journal of Economic Entomology, May 5, 2017)

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.

Comments

  1. This sounds as bad as the tiny beetles and aphids who have marauded their way up the entire east coast killing the Giant Red Hemlock. I hate hearing of these imported pests, who are more prolific than we can bear. Our poor forests.

    • Fortunately this beetle is not yet in the US. This research is a part of a new effort to rethink our approach to forest protection and be proactive. We re trying to know the pests before they show up, so that those in charge can make a quick decision and put resources behind eradication or management before the pests get out of hand.

      • crystalclear70 says:

        This is so refreshing. Thank you for your reply. Our natural predators do not seem to like these imported creatures, the climate disruptions, for whatever there cause, are causing imbalance in these populations.
        Preemptive and proactive measures are ultimately are only hope against infestations/
        Great work!

      • crystalclear70 says:

        “For whatever THEIR cause. (typo)
        Thank you again.

  2. We re trying to know the pests before they show up, so that those in charge can make a quick decision and put resources behind eradication or management before the pests get out of hand. I hate hearing of these imported pests, who are more prolific than we can bear.

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