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Webinar: Introduced Plant Pathogens Threatening North American Forests

August 16, 2023 @ 1:00 pm 2:00 pm CDT

Introduced plant pathogens threaten North American forests. Some arrived in the distant past: chestnut blight, white pine blister rust, beech bark disease, Dutch elm disease, butternut canker. Damaging introductions continue through the late 20th Century (sudden oak death, laurel wilt) and recent decades (ohia rust, Fusarium blight, rapid ohia death, beech leaf disease). Introduction of pathogens to naïve ecosystems is a global problem: North American and Asian pathogens are killing millions of trees in Europe.

Most of these pathogens probably entered on plant imports; others associated with ambrosia beetles could be introduced on plants, or on wood. The U.S. imported ~5 billion plants in 2021. One type of wood imports known to transport ambrosia beetles is, and wood packaging, e.g., crates and pallets. The U.S., Canada, and Mexico together import more than 31 million shipping containers per year. Between 11,000 and 25,000 of these containers are probably transporting a wood-boring pest. (While not all ambrosia beetles, this group is among the most commonly detected insects.)

When the World Trade Organization came into effect in the mid-1990s, countries adopted an international system intended to protect plants from pest introductions associated with trade. However, this system has demonstrably failed to curtail introductions. I will discuss the following reasons:

  • the system does not allow countries to regulate an organism until scientists can name it & demonstrate damage. Achieving this knowledge is hampered by
  • sometimes years of delay in establishing causal agents of disease
  • confusion over which barrier a disease-causing organism has overcome: geographic, environmental, or evolutionary. Only the first meets the definition of an “invasive species”, which is necessary to be eligible for regulation
    pathogens are extremely difficult to detect during visual inspection

The USDA has amended its plant import regulations, but data analyses to date have been inadequate to say how effectively the current regulations prevent introductions. Open discussion is needed by regulators, scientists, trade, stakeholders to try to identify steps that would result in enhanced protection.

Presented by Faith Campbell, President of the Center for Invasive Species Prevention

Faith Campbell holds a Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University. She has worked as a conservation advocate for a series of environmental organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, American Lands Alliance, and Nature Conservancy. Since the early 1990s, Faith has focused on invasive species policy, especially insects and pathogens that attack North American tree species.

Faith has published 3 reports on the forest pest issue [www.treeimprovement.utk.edu/FadingForests], as well as articles in publications ranging from Bioscience to Earth First Journal. Faith served as an advisor to the Office of Technology Assessment project which resulted in its report, Harmful Non-Indigenous Species in the United States and served two terms on the national Invasive Species Advisory Council.


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