Important insect and disease threats to United States tree species and geographic patterns of their potential impacts
Diseases and insects, particularly those that are non-native and invasive, arguably pose the most destructive threat to North American forests. Currently, both exotic and native insects and diseases are producing extensive ecological damage and economic impacts. As part of an effort to identify United States tree species and forests most vulnerable to these epidemics, we compiled a list of the most serious insect and disease threats for 419 native tree species and assigned a severity rating for each of the 1378 combinations between mature tree hosts and 339 distinct insect and disease agents. We then joined this list with data from a spatially unbiased and nationally consistent forest inventory to assess the potential ecological impacts of insect and disease infestations. Specifically, potential host species mortality for each host/agent combination was used to weight species importance values on approximately 132,000 Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) plots across the conterminous 48 United States. When summed on each plot, these weighted importance values represent an estimate of the proportion of the plot’s existing importance value at risk of being lost. These plot estimates were then used to identify statistically significant geographic hotspots and coldspots and of potential forest impacts associated with insects and diseases in total, and for different agent types. In general, the potential impacts of insects and diseases were greater in the West, where there are both fewer agents and less diverse forests. The impact of non-native invasive agents, however, was potentially greater in the East. Indeed, the impacts of current exotic pests could be greatly magnified across much of the Eastern United States if these agents are able to reach the entirety of their hosts’ ranges. Both the list of agent/host severities and the spatially explicit results can inform species-level vulnerability assessments and broad-scale forest sustainability reporting efforts, and should provide valuable information for decision-makers who need to determine which tree species and locations to target for monitoring efforts and pro-active management activities.