Wood packaging again ???!!!!!! Yes – problems need to be fixed!!

CBP inspector views Cerambycid larvae found in wood packaging that bears ISPM#15 stamp
CBP inspector views Cerambycid larvae found in wood packaging that bears ISPM#15 stamp

Do we want triple the current number of wood-boring non-native insects to be established in just 35 years? We all know the damage that some of these insects can do (see summary or longer descriptions; for specific insects).
Over the past 30 years, at least 58 non-native species of wood- or bark-boring insects have been detected in the United States (not quite 2 new insects per year). Most were presumably introduced via imported wood, especially wood packaging (Haack et al.).

Yes, the U.S. has implemented the International Standard for Phytosanitary Management (ISPM)#15.  Nevertheless, USFS researcher Bob Haack estimates that 13,000 shipping containers per year – or 35 per day – transport tree-killing pests to the U.S. This is the basis for an estimate that by 2050 – just 35 years from now – the number of wood-boring pests introduced to the country will triple above current levels.
We don’t need to rely only on extrapolations to know that APHIS’ implementation of ISPM#15 is not protecting our trees. As noted in my blog of 11 September, inspectors at the ports continue to find insects in wood packaging – even wood packaging marked as having been treated according to the requirements of the standard. Nearly half of the wood packaging entering the country that does not comply with the treatment requirements comes from Mexico. U.S. and Mexican forests are separated by deserts – allowing insects to evolve there to which our trees are vulnerable (see my blog from 11 September and descriptions of goldspotted oak borer, soapberry borer, and walnut twig beetle and its accompanying fungus here).
An on-going study seeks to identify insect larvae found in wood packaging; it is a cooperative effort of USDA APHIS’ laboratory at Otis, Massachusetts, and Customs and Border Protection staff at eight ports. Since 2012, these ports have sent 848 cerambycid and buprestid beetle larvae to Otis for identification. The APHIS scientists have succeeded in identifying 292 larvae, or only 34%. They constituted 39 species and 29 genera.

At least 44 of these insects were from China; they included 6 Asian longhorned beetles. Remember, the U.S. first adopted regulations requiring China to treat its wood packaging at the end of 1998 – nearly 17 years ago!!! Another 20 insects were from Russia – which has been required to treat its wood packaging since early 2006 – nearly 10 years ago.
As noted in the documents linked to above, and in earlier blogs (15 July, 22 and 31 August, 11 September), wood-boring pests collectively have been the most costly of the types of tree-killing pests introduced. One study estimated that they cost local governments and homeowners $2.4 billion each year to manage dying and dead trees. The homeowners lose another $830 million in residential property values.

What the Government Has Done

While USDA APHIS has cracked down on U.S. producers of wood packaging who cheat and is promoting workshops to educate our trade partners on wood packaging treatment requirements, the government should do more to protect our forests.

What More Can be Done

• At present, U.S. policy allows an importer to be caught 5 times in 1 year with wood packaging that does not comply with the regulatory requirements. Requirements adopted a decade or more ago should be enforced more strictly! The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and USDA APHIS should instead penalize all importers whose wood packaging does not comply with regulatory requirements.

• The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection should incorporate the wood packaging requirements into its “Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism” (C-TPAT) program .

• USDA APHIS should re-examine the economic pros and cons of requiring importers to switch to packaging made from materials other than wooden boards. The new review should incorporate the high economic and ecological costs imposed by insects introduced via the wood packaging pathway.

• USDA leadership should move forward and the President’s Office of Management and Budget should approve final regulations – proposed by APHIS 5 years ago! – that would apply the same treatment requirements to wood packaging used in trade between the US and Canada. (Canada has been ready to adopt this measure for several years.)

Sources (my apologies – I apparently cannot attach to specific points in the blog):

Aukema, J.E., B. Leung, K. Kovacs, C. Chivers, K. O. Britton, J. Englin, S.J. Frankel, R. G. Haight, T. P. Holmes, A. Liebhold, D.G. McCullough, B. Von Holle.. 2011. Economic Impacts of Non-Native Forest Insects in the Continental United States PLoS One September 2011 (Volume 6 Issue 9)

Haack RA, Britton KO, Brockerhoff EG, Cavey JF, Garrett LJ, et al. (2014) Effectiveness of the International Phytosanitary Standard ISPM No. 15 on Reducing Wood Borer Infestation Rates in Wood Packaging Material Entering the United States. PLoS ONE 9(5): e96611. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.009661

Leung, B., M.R. Springborn, J.A. Turner, E.G. Brockerhoff. 2014. Pathway-level risk analysis: the net present value of an invasive species policy in the US. The Ecological Society of America. Frontiers of Ecology.org

Posted by Faith Campbell

New IUCN report notes invasive species threat to World Heritage Sites – Including U.S. National Parks

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has just released a report, IUCN World Heritage Outlook 2014 (for press release, click here; for the full report, click here)
that names invasive species as the second most significant threat World Heritage sites with outstanding natural values. (Poaching is the greatest threat).

World Heritage sites have “outstanding universal values” – either natural or cultural. Natural sites are areas either of exceptional beauty or representative of major stages of Earth’s history, significant ongoing ecological processes, or significant habitats for biodiversity and threatened species.

The 2014 assessment examined 229 natural World Heritage sites and found that 104 are affected by invasive species. Unsurprisingly, island sites are especially heavily impacted. Two-thirds of the affected island sites (24 out of 36) are in the tropics.

The most widespread or common invaders are plants; they are named in 55 of the 104 affected sites. Invasive vertebrate animals affect at least 12 sites. These frequently include fish (mostly trout), cats, and rodents (especially rats).

The report calls for effective management strategies to protect the World Heritage sites. Such strategies include well-defined plans as well as strict bio-security measures, including limiting materials entering the site or the eradication of problem-causing species. Ideally, these actions involve local communities. Among the 104 natural World Heritage areas affected by invasive species, 87 have management projects addressing at least some invasive species or related issues.

According to the report, future invasive species management will be even more challenging, especially because of climate change. Climate change, itself, could become the biggest threat to natural sites in future.

30 dead swt bay 

dead sweetbay in Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

The United States has 21 World Heritage sites. Nine were chosen for their outstanding natural values. These include the following National parks: Everglades, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Hawaii Volcanoes, Redwood, Yellowstone, and Yosemite National parks; and – jointly with Canada – Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek and Waterton-Glacier National parks.

Several of these natural wonders are well known to be threatened by invasive species – including some tree-killing insects and pathogens.

Everglades National Park. In Everglades, pythons have decimated populations of small to medium native mammals. Lionfish are killing vast numbers of fish in the shallow bay. Numerous invasive plants, especially Australian pine, Melaleuca, Brazilian pepper, and old world climbing ferns transform the natural sawgrass prairie and mangroves. Some, e.g., Melaleuca, are under control thanks to persistent effort over decades.

Laurel wilt has almost eliminated swamp bay trees from the hammocks. Bromeliad weevil has killed many bromeliads in 12 genera (of the 16 present in Florida).


Tillandsia utriculata bromeliad in Florida

Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The outstanding biological diversity of the forested Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been severely undermined by chestnut blight, hemlock woolly adelgid, balsam woolly adelgid; and is now under attack by more recent invaders, including beech bark disease, emerald ash borer, and thousand cankers disease of walnut. Descriptions of all these pests are available here. At ground level, feral hogs damage plants, soil-dwelling invertebrates and small vertebrates, even birds. Rainbow trout compete with native trout in the streams. More than 380 non-native plants compete with the native species. The Park’s website features another invader, the Asian jumping worm (Amynthas agrestis), which has been introduced through bait.

The Great Smoky Mountains are the center of biological diversity for salamanders which are likely soon to face danger from the “Bsal” pathogen – unless the Fish and Wildlife Service acts to restrict imports of salamanders by the pet trade. See how CISP tries to counter this threat.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. As I wrote in my blog of October 7, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is fighting feral hogs, goats, and a plethora of invasive plants (the Park’s flora contains nearly twice as many exotic flowering plants as native species). The Park’s birds are threatened by two non-native diseases, avian pox and avian malaria. As noted in the earlier blog, Hawaii Volcanoes has also been invaded by koa wilt and `ohi`a rust; and is about to be invaded by `ohi`a wilt.

Web-based information from several parks in the western part of the continent focuses on the threat from invasive plants: Grand Canyon, Olympic, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. Redwoods National Park notes the damage caused by sudden oak death to its principal hardwood species, tanoak. Yellowstone National Park has a website describing its whitebark pine forests and mentioning that up to 30% of the taller whitebark pines have been attacked by white pine blister rust; I could find little information about the disease’s impact on the Park’s limber pines, which are also susceptible.

Yosemite National Park has a website with a table listing 16 non-native insects and pathogens that could threaten trees in the park. White pine blister rust is already present in the Park’s sugar pines. I am pleased to see that the website features goldspotted oak borer and the risk of pest introduction via firewood. I just wish Yosemite actually prohibited visitors from bringing firewood into the Park! And carefully restricted commercial suppliers! I addressed Yosemite’s failure to protect itself in my blog of 10 August.

The National Parks Conservation Association is the principal NGO that advocates for protection of the National parks. It issued a report in 2008 that found invasive species were a limited concern in 90% of the parks evaluated, a widespread or chronic concern in 38%. In Hawaii Volcanoes specifically, the natural resources were ranked in “poor” condition due primarily to non-native plants and animals.

Many individual parks have “Friends” groups ….

I ask these groups to help the National parks counter invasive species. To be effective, they need to go beyond the many volunteer “weed pulls” and outreach programs educating park visitors who might transport invasive species (for example, boaters and fishermen who can spread New Zealand mudsnails, rock snot, and invasive mussels; and campers who carry firewood that can transport pests). I ask them to also lobby for policies that would prevent invasions and for increase funding for the parks’ resource management programs (the programs that tackle invasive species). I suggest specifically that supporters of National parks advocate for improvements in programs run by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  These agencies, more than any other, determine whether prevention succeeds or fails.


Posted by Faith Campbell

Cacti under Threat – Does No One Care?

Nearly 2 million square miles of ecologically significant and beautiful desert ecosystems straddle the U.S.-Mexico border regions. Cacti are either dominate or are extremely important components of these ecosystems. Two South American insects already present in the United States threaten to kill large numbers of these cacti and transform these desert ecosystems. Iconic species – prickly pears, saguaro, and organ pipe cacti – are at risk.

prickly pear cactus at Factory Butte; photo by S.E. Schlarbaum
prickly pear cactus at Factory Butte; photo by S.E. Schlarbaum

Flat-padded prickly pear cacti of the genus Opuntia are threatened by the cactus moth, Cactoblastis cactorum.
In 1989, the cactus moth was found in southern Florida, to which it had spread from the Caribbean islands (Simonson 2005). Since then, it has spread west as far as southern Louisiana. Two small outbreaks on islands off Mexico’s Caribbean coast have been eradicated. If it reaches the arid regions of Texas, it is likely to spread throughout the desert Southwest.
In Florida, the cactus moth has caused considerable harm to six native species of prickly pear, three of which are listed by the state as threatened or endangered. In the American Southwest, at least 80 species of flat-padded prickly pears are at risk (Simonson et al. 2005) and there are more in Mexico, which is the center of endemism for Opuntia.
These cacti support a diversity of pollinators as well as deer, javalina (peccaries), tortoises, and lizards. Prickly pears also shelter packrats –which in turn are fed on by raptors, coyotes, and snakes; nesting birds and plant seedlings. Their roots hold highly erodible soils in place (Simonson 2005).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture began trying to slow the spread of the cactus moth in 2005 – 15 years after it was first detected in Florida (Mengoni Goñalons et al. 2014).  However, the program never received an appropriation from Congress so funding was always inadequate. For several years, a patchwork of projects was stitched together: Mexico provided some funding; a volunteer network managed by Mississippi State University monitored lands along the Gulf Coast for the moth; and a laboratory operated by the Florida Department of Agriculture reared moths for research, sterile male releases and biocontrol host specificity testing.
The continuous funding problems led APHIS to abandon its regional program and focus on biocontrol, which is the only viable control measure in the desert Southwest where vulnerable cacti are numerous and grow close together. A newly described wasp, Apanteles opuntiarum (Mengoni Goñalons et al. 2014), is the most promising candidate.
Harrisia cactus mealybug might attack columnar cacti
The 2 million square miles of desert in Southwest United States and Mexico are home to more than 500 columnar cactus species in the Cactoideae (Zimmerman et al. 2010). Some are already endangered; others are totems of the desert, e.g., saguaro, organ pipe, and barrel cacti. The larger ones, particularly, play important ecological roles.
A second South American insect threatens columnar cacti in the Caribbean basin now and in the future could put others at risk in the American Southwest and Mexico: the Harrisia cactus mealybug (Zimmerman et al. 2010).
A mealybug in the genus Hypogeococcus has been killing several of the 13 columnar cactus species in southern Puerto Rico since 2005. Two are endangered species: Harrisia portoricensis and Leptocereus grantianus (USDA ARS). These cacti provide food or shelter for endemic bats, birds, moths and other pollinators (Segarra & Ramirez; USDA ARS). This mealybug is also now killing native cacti on the U.S. Virgin Islands (H. Diaz-Soltero pers. comm. August 2015).
Mealybugs in the same genus in Florida and Hawai`i do not attack cacti (University of Florida fact sheet; Hawai`i Department of Agriculture new pest report). In South America, though, insects in this genus feed on many columnar cacti, including ones in the genera Cereus, Echinopsis, Harrisia, Cleistocactus, Monvilea, and Parodia (USDA ARS; Zimmerman et al. 2010). Scientists are uncertain how many mealybug species are involved, which complicates efforts to determine the level of threat to columnar cacti on the U.S. mainland (H. Diaz-Soltero pers. com. August 2015). No one knows how vulnerable individual cactus species growing in the Southwest are to Hypogeococcus mealybugs (Golubov pers. comm. January 2011). Nor does anyone know whether natural enemies of mealybugs native to Mexico might also attack alien mealybugs and so prevent significant damage to native cacti (Zimmerman et al. 2010).
Still, the possible threat warrants studies to determine the vulnerability of these cacti to non-native mealybugs in the Hypogeococcus genus.
Meanwhile, scientists at the USDA ARS laboratory in Argentina have been searching for possible biocontrol agents but are stymied by the confusion over which mealybugs attach which cacti. Use of DNA sequencing and other tools should clarify these issues (H. Diaz-Soltero pers. comm. August 2015). However, no funds have been appropriated for this work, which has hindered progress (H. Diaz-Soltero pers. comm. August 2015).
To date, no organized constituency has advocated for protection of our cacti from these two pests. In the past I tried to persuade native plant societies, Nature Conservancy chapters, the leadership of the American Cactus and Succulent Society, and other groups that champion the desert to help lobby the Congress to fund USDA’s efforts. I was never successful.
Are Americans truly indifferent to the threat that many cacti in our deserts will be killed by non-native insects? Do they not realize that these threats must be countered before they reach the areas where cacti are dense and numerous?

California Plant Pest and Disease Report. 2005. Vol. 22 No. 1. Covering Period from July 2002 through July 2005.
Hawaii Department of Agriculture. 2006. http://hawaii.gov/hdoa/pi/ppc/2006-annual-report/new-pest-detections (accessed 11/1/10)
Mengoni Goñalons, C., L. Varone, G. Logarzo, M. Guala, M. Rodriguero, S.D. Hight, and J.E. Carpenter. 2014. Geographical range & lab studies on Apanteles opuntiarum (hymenoptera: braconiDae) in AR, a candidate for BC of Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) in North America. Florida Entomologist 97(4) December 2014
Segarra-Carmona, A.E., A. Ramirez-Lluch. No date. Hypogeococcus pungens (Hemiptera: Pseudococcidae): A new threat to biodiversity in fragile dry tropical forests. {title/org/other identifying information for Segarra-Carmona plus an entry for the pers. comm.}
Simonson, S.E., T. J. Stohlgren, L. Tyler, W. Gregg, R. Muir, and L. Garrett. 2005. Preliminary assessment of the potential impacts and risks of the invasive cactus moth, Cactoblastis cactorum Berg, in the U.S. and Mexico. Final Report to the International Atomic Energy Agency, April 25, 2005 © IAEA 2005
USDA Agriculture Research Service, Research Project: Biological Control of the Harrisia Cactus Mealybug, Hypogeococcus pungens (Hemiptera:pseudococcidae) in Puerto Rico Project Number: 0211-22000-006-10 Project Type: Reimbursable
Zimmermann, H.G., M.P.S. Cuen, M.C. Mandujano, and J. Golubov. 2010. The South American mealybug that threatens North American cacti. Cactus and Succulent Journal. 2010 Volume 82 Number 3

Posted by Faith Campbell

Hawaii’s unique forests now threatened by insects and pathogens – APHIS & State should act

We have known since Darwin that oceanic islands can be cradles of speciation & endemism. Hawai`i exemplifies the phenomenon. Ninety-eight percent of native flowering plants are endemic (Cox). The density of native insect species in Hawai`i is higher than on mainland North America (Yamanaka).`ohi`a

We have known since Elton or earlier that oceanic islands are highly vulnerable to bioinvasion because their unique species did not evolve defenses against predation, herbivory, competition, or diseases; or the ability to adapt to changed soil chemistry or increased fire frequency.

Chapter 8 of the Office of Technology Assessment study of harmful invasive species states:

“Hawaii has a unique indigenous biota, the result of its remote location, topography, and climate. Many of its species, however, are already lost, and at least one-half of the wild species in Hawaii today are non-indigenous. New species have played a significant role in the extinction of indigenous species in the past and continue to do so. Hawaii, the Nation, and the world would lose something valuable as the indigenous fauna and flora decline.”

I apologize for not addressing the disasters wreaked on Hawai’i’s fauna and non-arboreal flora by invasive mammals and birds, plants, and such animal diseases as avian malaria and avian pox. For more on these topics, see the other sources listed below and the websites maintained by the Hawai`i Invasive Species Council and Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species. Cox notes that alien species span all trophic groups and threaten the complete replacement of the native terrestrial biota.

Outside of land clearing for ranches and other uses, much of the damage to Hawaii’s native forest trees has been caused by introduced mammals – especially pigs and goats; and invasive plants. Few of the enormous number of non-native insects that have established in Hawai`i appear to have attacked native trees. More than 2,600 non-native insects have been introduced; their number equals three-quarters of the NIS insects established in North America, yet Hawai`i constitutes less than 0.01% of the area of North America. The ratio of non-native to native insect species is higher for Hawai`i than for the other geographic areas studied by Yamanaka and colleagues (mainland North America, “mainland” Japan, and two offshore Japanese islands) (Yamanaka).

More than 13% of the non-native insects (=~350) in Hawai`i were introduced intentionally for biological control of agricultural pests and non-native plants (Yamanaka). Cox, Elton, and the Office of Technology Assessment discuss briefly the sometimes damaging effects of these deliberate introductions.

I am aware of only one NIS insect that has seriously threatened a native tree species: the Erythrina gall wasp, which killed many native wiliwili trees as well as lots of introduced coral trees planted in towns and as windbreaks. Biocontrol agents have helped prevent continuing damage from the gall wasp.

Disease pathogens have so far proved greater threats to Hawaiian native trees than introduced insects. Koa wilt is killing koa, especially at lower elevations. It is not certain whether the pathogenic Fusarium fungus is introduced or native; it has been found on all four major islands. Koa is second only to `ohi`a (see below) in abundance in mid to upper elevation Hawaiian forests. It is extremely important ecologically and culturally (koa was the tree from which large, ocean-going canoes were made). Koa also has a wood valued for a range of uses.

`Ohi`a lehua is the most widespread tree on the Islands, dominating approximately 80% of Hawai`i’s remaining native forest (about 965,000 acres, 1500 square miles). These forests are home to Hawai`i’s one native mammal (Hawaiian hoary bat) and 30 species of forest birds (Loope and LaRosa). One threat to `ohi`a comes from `ohi`a or eucalyptus rust.  Detected in April 2005, it had spread to all the major islands by August. Fortunately, the strain of `ohi`a rust established in Hawai`i is not very virulent on `ohi`a, but it has killed many plants of an endangered native shrub, Eugenia koolauensis and in Australia it has killed many plants in the Myrtaceae family. Hawaiian conservationists worry that a different, more virulent, strain might be introduced on plants or cut foliage shipped to the Islands from either foreign sources or the U.S. mainland.

A new, apparently more damaging, pathogen was detected in 2010. This new disease is caused by a new strain of a fungus long present in Hawai`i but not previously known to attack trees — Ceratocystis fimbriata. Already, the disease has killed 50% of the `ohi`a trees in several scattered locations totaling 6,000 acres on the southeast lowlands of Hawai`i (the “Big Island”). Tree mortality is now nearing the boundary of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Hawaii Volcanoes pioneered methods for controlling invasive pigs and plants that threatened to destroy the Park’s forests. Through 40 years of sustained effort, Hawaii Volcanoes has brought those threats under control. Now the Park faces loss of its invaluable `ohi`a forest to this pathogen – which will be infinitely harder to keep out of the Park.

The Hawai`i Department of Agriculture has adopted an emergency regulation aimed at preventing transport of infected wood or tree parts from the Big Island to other islands.

Although tree-killing insects and pathogens have so far not been as damaging in Hawai`i as might be expected, the Islands are highly vulnerable due to the large volumes of cargo and people from around the globe which land on the Islands and the few tree species native there. The Erythrina gall wasp has island-hopped from the east coast of Africa to Hawai`i and many islands in between. `Ohi`a rust is native to tropical America and probably reached the islands on cut stems used in floral decorations. It is unknown where the Ceratocytis fimbriata strain evolved or how it reached Hawai`i.

USDA APHIS is responsible for preventing introduction of new plant pests to Hawai`i from non-U.S. jurisdictions (as well as from Guam). APHIS has traditionally paid little attention to plant pests that are thought likely to threaten “only” Hawai`i but not plant (agricultural) resources on the mainland.

Hawaiian authorities are responsible for preventing introductions from the Mainland – but they struggle with inadequate resources to address the huge volumes of incoming freight and they sometimes hesitate to act. (Hawai`i Department of Agriculture considered restricting shipments of foliage in the Myrtacea to minimize the risk of introduction of a new strain of `ohi`a rust, but in the end did not adopt such a measure.)

Hawai`i’s unique biota is an irreplaceable treasure. All Americans should act to prevent introduction additional introductions to the Islands.

Cox, George W. Alien Species in North America and Hawaii Impacts on Natural Ecosystems 1999
Elton, Charles S. The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants 1958; see especially Chapter 4: The Fate of Remote Islands
Loope, L. and LaRosa, A.M. `Ohi`a Rust (Eucalyptus Rust) (Puccinia psidii Winter) Risk Assessment for Hawai`i
U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment. 1993. Harmful Non-Indigenous Species In the United States. OTA-F-565; available at http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/ota/Ota_1/DATA/1993/9325.PDF

Yamanaka, T., N. Morimoto, G.M. Nishida, K. Kiritani, S. Moriya, A.M. Liebhold. 2015. Comparison of insect invasions in North America, Japan and their Islands. Biol Invasions DOI 10.1007/s10530-015-0935-y

Posted by Faith Campbell