About 450 nonnative, plant-eating insect species live in North American forests. While most are harmless, a handful wreak havoc on their new environment, and their attacks on trees cause more than $70 billion in damage each year.
The problem is, scientists often don’t know which insect will emerge as the next harmful invader.
Now, a team that includes faculty and students from the University of Georgia has developed a way to understand how nonnative insects might behave in their new environments. Drawing largely on the evolutionary history of insect-plant interactions, the team’s model, published this month in the journal Ecology and Evolution, could help foresters predict which insect invasions will be problematic, and help managers decide where to allocate resources to avoid widespread tree death.
“This is very important for our pine plantations here in the South, which are ecologically and economically important,” said Kamal Gandhi, a professor of forest entomology at the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. “This study has major implications for regulations and management practices in the future.”