International Researchers Mobilize Against Risky Stowaway Pests

New Zealand has one the most well developed forest biosecurity programs in the world. The logs pictured here at the Port of Tauranga were fumigated prior to export to minimize the chance of accidentally spreading forest pests. Photo by Frank Koch, U.S. Forest Service.
New Zealand has one the most well developed forest biosecurity programs in the world. The logs pictured here at the Port of Tauranga were fumigated prior to export to minimize the chance of accidentally spreading forest pests. Photo by Frank Koch, U.S. Forest Service.

Sometimes there is more to global trade than meets the eye. While consumers and economies may benefit from expanding market opportunities and a seemingly endless array of readily available goods, harmful pests could be lurking as people and products are transported between countries. An international research network, including scientists from the U.S. Forest Service, recently met to share information about how exotic insects, diseases, and plants can move and spread—and threaten agricultural and natural resources.

The International Pest Risk Mapping Workgroup (IPRMW) consists of governmental and academic scientists from around the globe who study potential stowaway pests in order to assess the likelihood of their establishment in new locations and the potential impacts if and where they spread.

The IPRMW held their Seventh International Pest Risk Mapping Workshop in Raleigh, North Carolina, last week. Frank Koch, a research ecologist with the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center and founding member of the IPRMW, served on the planning committee for the workshop, which drew more than 25 scientists from eight countries. “The overall purpose of the meeting was to share recent progress in risk modeling of invasive alien species. In particular, the meeting was intended to facilitate the development of new risk mapping techniques, tools, and training materials,” says Koch.

The last workshop of the IPRMW took place in Tromsø, Norway, in July 2012. The journal NeoBiota recently published a special issue featuring research findings from the workshop, which focused on advancing the science of pest risk assessments by incorporating climate change, economics, and uncertainty. Koch and Rob Venette, a Forest Service research biologist with the Northern Research Station and key IPRMW member, were among the contributing authors, reviewers, and associate editors for the special issue. According to Koch, “The papers in this special issue highlight really excellent, creative work by IPRMW members to address some of the major challenges in forecasting alien species invasions.”

Knowledge gained at these workshops and through ongoing IPRMW collaborations involving the Forest Service is important to policy makers engaged in international trade issues and the associated risks. “Forest Service researchers focus intently on finding the ‘sweet spot’ that balances our mandate to protect forest ecosystems from invasion with the benefits from international trade,” says Dr. Kerry Britton, Forest Service National Program Leader for Forest Pathology Research. Armed with information from IPRMW efforts, policy makers can develop science-based decisions about precautions necessary during international trading activities to prevent losses and sustain healthy crops, livestock, forests, and economies around the world.

For more information, email Frank Koch at fhkoch@fs.fed.us.

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