Prioritizing the conservation needs of United States tree species: Evaluating vulnerability to forest insect and disease threats
Insect and disease infestations pose major threats to several North American forest tree species. Scientists and managers from throughout the United States Forest Service developed a conservation priority-setting framework for forest tree species at risk from insects and disease and other threats. The Project CAPTURE (Conservation Assessment and Prioritization of Forest Trees Under Risk of Extirpation) framework is data-driven and guided by expert opinion, allowing the quantitative grouping of species into vulnerability classes that may require different management and conservation strategies. We applied this framework to categorize and prioritize 419 native North American tree species for conservation, monitoring, and management using trait data and insect and disease threat data for each host tree species. The categorization is based on vulnerability factors relating to each tree species’ (1) insect and disease threat severity, (2) sensitivity to insect and disease infestation, and (3) capacity to adapt to insect and disease infestation. We used Kmeans clustering to group species into 11 classes based on these vulnerability dimensions. The three most vulnerable classes encompassed 15 species which require the most immediate conservation intervention. Two additional classes face less severe insect and disease threats and may be good candidates for resistance breeding efforts. Other groups had traits associated with high sensitivity and/or low adaptive capacity to potential future insect and disease threats, suggesting that these species need close monitoring. This assessment tool should be valuable for decision-makers determining which species and populations to target for monitoring efforts and for pro-active gene conservation and management activities.