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How Do We Know Which Invasive Plant Pests Will Be the Next Big Threats?

emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis)

The emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) is an invasive insect pest in North America and is just one example of an invasive species that threatens plants outside its native range. To better enable prevention of and response to such invasive pests, entomologists and plant-protection experts around the world share knowledge through a variety of online early warning systems, a variety of which are profiled in a new guide in the open-access Journal of Integrated Pest Management. (Photo by Sandrine Corriveau, via iNaturalist, CC BY-NC 4.0)

By Roslyn Noar, Ph.D.; Chelsea Jahant-Miller, Ph.D; Sherrie Emerine; and Rosemary Hallberg

Invasive plant pests have caused major losses to agriculture and natural resources, and they pose an increasing threat as the world becomes more interconnected with trade and travel. Emerald ash borer, European gypsy moth, and Japanese beetle are a few examples of invasive pests that have been introduced into the United States, where they have wreaked ecological havoc and required expensive eradication and management programs.

To deal with the growing threat of invasive plant pest introductions, many countries have enacted trade regulations such as inspecting commodities at international ports or limiting trade of high-risk plants. Targeting inspections to where they are most needed can help countries spend limited resources for plant protection and quarantine more efficiently. The big question is: How can we predict where that might be?

Several early warning systems try to address just that question, providing a valuable service both to government regulators and to members of the plant protection community who would like to stay informed. In a new article in the open-access Journal of Integrated Pest Management, we offer an in-depth look at a variety of these early warning systems. Below is a short summary of what they offer.

PestLens, the early warning system for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sends a weekly email notification about important pest events, such as new distribution or host reports. It focuses on plant pests and pathogens that are not yet in the United States but are economically important. PestLens primarily reports based on peer-reviewed journal articles and news articles.

The EPPO Alert List is a list of plant pests and pathogens that are likely to pose a threat to member countries of the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization (EPPO). The national plant-protection organizations of the member countries can suggest that a pest be added to the list for a variety of reasons, such as when outbreaks of the pest occur or if it has spread to new locations. Each pest on the alert list has a fact sheet that highlights information about the biology of the pest and how it might be able to hitchhike into new countries on different commodities.

Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica)

Several early warning systems aim to inform how to predict where and when invasive pests of plants might show up next, providing a valuable service both to government regulators and to members of the plant protection community who would like to stay informed. A new article in the open-access Journal of Integrated Pest Management offers an in-depth look at a variety of these early warning systems. Such warning systems could share knowledge about expanding ranges of invasive species such as the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica). (Photo by Chelsea Jahant-Miller, Ph.D.)

The EPPO Reporting Service is a monthly newsletter about plant pests and pathogens that have been spreading among the EPPO member countries, causing issues on new hosts and other plant pest events.

The NAPPO Phytosanitary Alert System, from the North American Plant Protection Organization (NAPPO), has official pest reports from the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

IPPC Pest Reports are official pest reports from national plant protection organizations around the world, shared via the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). They report on pests that are quarantine pests for the reporting country or for its neighboring countries.

ProMED is an email list that reports on disease outbreaks. Although it reports on human, animal, and plant pathogens, you can sign up to only receive emails pertaining to plant health. ProMED is different from some of the other early warning systems because it uses some informal and non-traditional information sources, plus it reports on diseases for which the pathogen has not yet been identified.

The International Plant Sentinel Network uses observations and research from arboreta to identify novel pests that cause damage to plants originating from outside of the pests’ native ranges but may not pose an economic or ecological threat to host plants in their native range. Such findings would suggest that a pest may be a major threat to other countries, even if it doesn’t have a big impact in its home country.

Each early warning system has its own slightly different and complementary niche, and together they all help countries to stay informed about looming threats so they can focus their resources where they are most needed. Check out the websites of each early warning system to get more information or to sign up for their newsletters, and explore the article in JIPM to learn more.

Roslyn Noar, Ph.D.; Chelsea Jahant-Miller, Ph.D; and Sherrie Emerine are research associates and Rosemary Hallberg is an information and communications specialist, all at the Center for Integrated Pest Management at North Carolina State University. Email Roslyn Noar at rdnoar@ncsu.edu.

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