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The Path Forward on Invasive Arthropods: Collaboration, Innovation, and More

Grand Challenges Vancouver summit panel

At the Grand Challenge Agenda for Entomology summit, “Addressing the North American and Pacific Rim Invasive Insect and Arthropod Species Challenge,” November 9-10, 2018, in Vancouver, 150 attendees discussed challenges and solutions to invasive arthropod alien species and identified broad themes for future action. (Photo credit: Entomological Society of America)

By Tracy Hueppelsheuser, Sandy M. Smith, Helen Spafford, and Frank G. Zalom

Invasive Arthropod Alien Species (IAAS) are a known threat to our quality of life. They outcompete native species, help spread disease, and transform ecosystems. They travel over and through borders, mostly as undetected hitch-hikers in trade and human movement. As global traffic and trade continues to increase, the problem will only get worse.

With funding challenges, workforce shortages, and the sheer scale of the problem as obstacles, every developed nation on Earth is struggling to find ways to address the challenge of IAAS. Within each country, federal agencies that manage invasive species do great work, but the scale of the problem exceeds the capacity for any one agency acting alone. Truly successful solutions will only emerge when the global community not only recognizes the challenge for what it is, but works together to develop these solutions.

As a step in developing an international coalition to address this challenge, in November 2018, a summit, titled “Addressing the North American and Pacific Rim Invasive Insect and Arthropod Species Challenge,” was convened in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada by the Entomological Society of America (ESA), the Entomological Society of Canada, and the Entomological Society of British Columbia. Leading researchers, government authorities, and influential stakeholders met to develop a deeper understanding of the challenge and the threats of IAAS. While most of the 150 attendees were from the U.S. and Canada, other nations were also represented, such as Finland, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and more.

Over the course of the two-day summit, key action items were identified along several themes (listed here and also summarized in an infographic, embedded at the bottom of this post):

International collaboration. The problem is global, therefore the solutions must be global as well. Summit participants tended to agree that more international cooperation was needed. Whether that comes in the form of new treaties and partnerships, better enforcement of existing treaties and partnerships, or something else remains to be seen. Clearly more work needs to be done in this area. If found to be feasible, one approach may be to seek the formation of a global coalition on the topic of IAAS.

Capacity. A large and active seaport such as Vancouver’s can process more than 3.6 million containers a year. More than 10,000 containers may move through the port in a single day. Inspection is only practically and economically feasible for a small percentage of these shipments. While data-driven methods for prioritizing shipment inspections based on statistical risk are improving success rates, vastly increasing the budget for inspections may have only a marginal impact on the entry of new species. Furthermore, container shipping is only one pathway for introduction. The international capacity and cooperation for pre-border, border, and post-border inspection and response must be expanded and improved.

Innovation. We need new technologies and approaches for risk assessment, pre-border and border detection, post-border monitoring, eradication (when feasible), and management of established pests. Existing technologies, meanwhile, can be used more effectively. The invention-to-implementation pipeline for IAAS needs to be diversified, strengthened, and ensured. These new tools should not only address capacity issues but also improve sustainability of our prevention and management approaches.

Funding. A sustained and consistent stream of funding is essential to address the innovation needs to combat the threat of IAAS. Competition for scarce federal and other government funds is a challenge for most nations, forcing agencies that manage IAAS to compete with other high-profile national and international challenges. Government funds are used to develop badly needed and innovative technologies for detection, response, and management as well as to train and employ those who carry out this essential work.

As the nations of the world grapple with other high-profile and important priorities, it is equally clear that, while continued federal and other government funding needs to be a priority, it cannot be the sole solution to the IAAS challenge. The traditional grants-based funding model has worked well for many decades, but new, faster, interactive, and flexible approaches that can address smaller “proof of concept” types of research needs are being tested and implemented. One such program was announced during the summit in the form of an invasive species grant challenge, co-hosted by ESA and Experiment.com, to address the issues identified during the summit. Novel funding partnerships such as this should be explored, nurtured, and developed as complementary revenue streams to more traditional government funding.

Broadening the base. Engaging the public in seeking solutions is a critical component to ensure government agencies are working optimally. To that effect, programs that engage citizen scientists, youth, and other communities of the public in invasive species prevention, detection, and management should be supported. Several such programs exist today. Work needs to be done to determine which approaches for community engagement are most effective. Program unification may amplify the message and connections.

This summit was a step toward building an international coalition to tackle invasive arthropod alien species. Other non-governmental organizations exist today that address non-arthropod invasive issues, but no international coalition currently exists with the focused mission of addressing invasive arthropods. The time is now for the global community of entomologists to band together and help address this challenge.

Addressing the Invasive Species Challenge

Over the course of a two-day summit, summit, titled “Addressing the North American and Pacific Rim Invasive Insect and Arthropod Species Challenge,” convened in November 2018 by the Entomological Societies of America, Canada, and British Columbia, key action items were identified along several themes, summarized here. Download in PDF format.

Tracy Hueppelsheuser is an entomologist at the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture’s Plant Health Unit and chair of the British Columbia Plant Protection Advisory Council. Email: tracy.hueppelsheuser@gov.bc.ca. Sandy M. Smith, Ph.D., is a professor of forestry at the University of Toronto and a past president of the Entomological Society of Canada. Email: s.smith.a@utoronto.ca. Helen Spafford, Ph.D., is graduate student in the Department of Political Science at the University of New Orleans and a member of the ESA Science Policy Fellows Class of 2015. Email: helen.spafford@gmail.com. Frank G. Zalom, Ph.D., is a distinguished professor in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at the University of California, Davis, and a past president of the Entomological Society of America. Email: fgzalom@ucdavis.edu.

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