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John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis

Powell Center Working Group Project Information
Predicting the next high-impact insect invasion: Elucidating traits and factors determining the risk of introduced herbivorous insects on North American native plants

Principal Investigator(s):
Kathryn A Thomas (USGS - Southwest Biological Research Center)
Travis D. Marsico (Arkansas State University)
Daniel A. Herms (Ohio State University)
Patrick C. Tobin (University of Washington)

Craig R Allen (Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit)
Andrew Liebhold (U.S. Forest Service)
Nathan Havill (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Angela Mech (University of Washington)
Ashley Schulz (Arkansas State University)
Matthew Ayres (Dartmouth College)
Kamal Gandhi (University of Georgia)
Jessica Gurevitch (Stony Brook University)
Ruth A Hufbauer (Colorado State University)

Award Date: 2016 
Title: Title:

Non-native insect invasions increasingly cause widespread ecological and economic damage in natural and agricultural ecosystems. Non-native insects specialized for feeding on specific plant groups are particularly problematic as they can potentially eliminate an entire genus of native plant species across a wide area. For example, emerald ash borer has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America since its accidental introduction from Asia, including more than 99% of all trees in forests near the epicenter of the invasion.  However, most introduced insects do not become high-impact pests. Our goal is to develop a framework that allows us to predict whether non-native herbivorous insects in natural ecosystems will cause widespread mortality of their host plants if they become established. On a continental scale, we are synthesizing data on traits and factors representing five types of drivers to build a predictive model of the potential impact of introduced insects. Those drivers are: (1) the insects’ and host plants’ evolutionary history, (2) the host plants’ defenses or lack thereof (defense-free space), (3) presence of natural enemies or lack thereof (enemy release), (4) invader traits, and (5) geographic and temporal considerations.  We will apply the model to insects with a high likelihood of introduction to the U.S. to rank their probability of becoming significant threats if established. The project outcomes will inform invasive species management and risk assessment. We will also be able examine the contribution of each of the hypothesized drivers toward invasion impact and contribute to testing the relative importance of the defense-free space and enemy release hypotheses in different systems.

Tobin, P.C., Marsico, T.D., Thomas, K.A., Herms, D.A., and Mech, A.M. “Looking for black and white in the grey: Variation in invasion success and management challenges in a global community.” International Congress of Entomology (ICE), September 2016, Orlando, Florida. Conference talk.

USGS Mission Areas:
Ecosystems Science
Natural Hazards Science

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