The live plant forest pest invasion pathway: economic impacts and benefits of US live plant imports

PARTNERS: Resources for the Future; USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station

SUMMARY: While globalization and international trade provide many benefits, trends of increasing international movement of goods and people also drive increasing environmental risks and damages, including ecological and economic impacts from invasive species introductions. International trade inadvertently facilitates diverse invasion pathways such as ballast water, packing material, intentional introductions, and via “hitchhikers” on traded products. Trade in live plants is a particularly important and growing invasion pathway, as it directly introduces plant species that have potential to become invasive, and, perhaps more importantly, is the most frequent medium for introduction of non-native phytophagous pests (pests that feed on plants) of agricultural and natural resources worldwide. This effort will develop a bioeconomic analysis to compare the economic benefits derived from the live plant trade in the United States to the costs and damages resulting from forest insect pests that arrive through this invasion pathway. This analysis will provide an economic baseline for understanding current costs and damages from the live plant trade and a backdrop against which policies and management approaches for reducing forest pest and live plant trade impacts can be compared.

EFETAC'S ROLE: This project is supported by Eastern Threat Center funding.

STATUS: Completed

PROGRESS: Researchers have developed empirical estimates of total long-term damages from three damaging forest pests that are currently established and spreading in the United States: gypsy moth, emerald ash borer, and hemlock woolly adelgid. While most invasive species damage estimates focus on local or short-term damages, these estimates consider total damages across the entire course of an invasion, from introduction through total saturation of the landscape. The article reporting these findings highlights the importance of invaders' temporal characteristics in determining long-term damages, including spread rates, damage persistence, and lag times. Researchers are using these long-term damage estimates to calibrate expected long-term damages from new invaders. These damage estimates, combined with estimated introduction rates, are the basis of the cost estimates for evaluating potential invasion costs from live plant imports. Benefits from live plant trade are based on consumer welfare estimates.

In addition, researchers have presented this work in a variety of forums:

  • Epanchin-Niell, R.S. and A.M. Liebhold. “Temporal patterns of invasion damages and implications for mitigation.” 25th USDA Interagency Research Forum on Invasive Species, Annapolis, MD, Jan 8, 2014.
  • Liebhold, A.M., R. Epanchin-Niell. “Temporal distribution of damages are critical determinants of the economic valuation of invasive species impacts”, presented in symposium, “Novel anthropogenic activity datasets and predicting long range introductions of invasive pests”, Entomological Society of America Annual Meeting, Portland, OR Nov. 15-19, 2014.
  • Liebhold, A.M and R. Epanchin-Niell. Bioeconomics and the Efficiency of Invasive Species Surveillance and Eradication. Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science.(DIMACS) Special Program: Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013+, June 4 - 6, 2015, Howard University, Washington, DC


CONTACT: Rebecca Epanchin-Niell, Fellow, Resources for the Future, or (202) 328-5069

Updated May 2016

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