Europe moves to curtail forest pest introductions – but strongest measures are hampered by trade rules

alb-in-euro-on-tree-doris-holling-wslALB in Europe; photo by Doris Holling WSL

Maartje J. Klapwijk and several colleagues have recently taken a hard look at non-native forest pests in Europe.  They conclude that current European legislation is inadequate to prevent forest/tree pest introduction, establishment and spread in the European Union. (A link to the article is provided at the end of this post.)


Some of the proactive steps that they recommend, however, will be difficult to enact. International trade rules (World Trade Organization, Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures – SPS Agreement) require that countries prove that the target commodity in trade presents a significant pest risk – proof that is difficult to obtain before damage has actually occurred.


(I have written extensively about this “Catch 22” – see Fading Forests II here)


Furthermore, European Union rules prevent countries from taking proactive measures to restrict potentially pest-infested plants or wood products being traded from one EU member country to another.  However, member countries’ vary in their levels of concern about tree-killing pests. As a result, phytosanitary measures are quite weak in some countries. Once a pest-infested shipment enters a country with a weak phytosanitary system it can be moved freely to any other member country.


Thus, international and EU rules together create a significant risk that a pest will enter, establish, and then be spread by commerce to the rest of the Union.


The authors note that growing trade in living plants and wood products has brought a rise in non-native tree pests becoming established in Europe. The number of alien invertebrate species has increased two-fold since 1950; the number of fungal species has increased four-fold since 1900. Few studies have attempted to quantify the economic impacts of non-native tree-killing pests in Europe. But the authors say that the introduced pests will cause economic damage either directly by reducing the revenue of the country or imposing control costs; or indirectly through trade restrictions or reduced values of real estate.


Among the recent introductions are the pinewood nematode from North America; Asian and Citrus longhorned beetles and ash dieback fungus from Asia; and sudden oak death and other Phytophthora species. (I described the extent of Phytophtphora infestations in European nurseries in a blog posted on April 25.) As a partial response, EU countries have created a network of nurseries intended to serve as an early warning system against further introductions of alien tree pests.  (Descriptions of these pests and where they are found are available on the website of the European and Mediterranean Plant Pest Organization (EPPO) here)

alb-in-europeALB introduction sites in Europe


The European Union regulates invasive species through the Environment Directorate-General (DG Environment).  However, tree-killing pests and other plant health concerns are the responsibility of a different governmental body, the Directorate-General Health and Food Safety (DG SANCO).


Maartje J. Klapwijk and colleagues note the risk associated with:

  • crates, pallets, and other forms of wood packaging;
  • wood chips (Europe imports more than 4 million tons of wood pellets as fuel in order to meet its carbon emission reduction goals)  ; and
  • especially – living plants.


They note that the international community has adopted two international related sanitary agreements : ISPM#15 (wood packaging) and ISPM#36 (living plants).  The European Union requires certificates stating that imported plants are free from harmful organisms and that phytosanitary measures stipulated by the importing country have been applied. However, limited resources mean that only a small proportion of living plants, plant material, soil and wood products arriving in Europe can be inspected. “The main purpose of the inspections is to verify whether shipments comply with regulations, rather than to stop potentially harmful organisms …” (my emphasis).  Reflecting the differences in levels of concern among EU member states noted above, there are large differences in inspection intensity among the EU member states.


The pertinent European legislation is Directive 2000/29/EC. It relies on a ‘‘black-list’’ of plants and plant products that are banned from import and specifies procedures to apply when any of these banned products is found in the EU. According to Klapwijk and colleagues, these quarantine lists provide insufficient protection because harmful organisms that enter the EU often are unknown prior to establishment.


Aware of the current system’s inadequacies, the EC has proposed a new regulation which would simplify and harmonize plant passports, allow for stricter measures against pests, and address emerging risks from certain living plant imports from some non-EU countries. Instead of listing harmful plant pests, the proposed regulation “sets out the conceptual nature of quarantine pests” and empowers the Commission to adopt measures to control certain pests.


Klapwijk and colleagues praise these actions as a significant step forward. However, they note that the new rules still don’t provide for precautionary assessments of high-risk commodities. Nor do they restrict import of the highest-risk commodities, such as imports of large plants or plants in soil. (my emphasis)


The authors note that other countries take a more pro-active, precautionary stance. Australia and New Zealand require that all imported plant products be assessed and proved safe before import. The U.S. restricts the size of imported plants and does not allow imported plants to be in soil. (The U.S. has proposed a new approach that relies increasingly on integrated measures or systems approaches rather than port-of-entry inspection.  However, this proposal has been pending for more than three years. (APHIS explains its proposal here)


The question is, do trade rules allow Europe to apply the same restrictions as other countries? As Klapwijk and colleagues note, the EU cannot adopt more rigorous phytosanitary measures without providing scientific evidence for this necessity. Preparing a risk assessment to make this case will involve considerable work. As part of this process, Europe should announce that it wishes to raise its “level of protection” and that more stringent phytosanitary measures are needed to achieve that new goal.


Meanwhile, the EU can enhance its active detection efforts and “rapid response” capabilities. The new EC directive will require countries in which a new pest is detected to eradicate or contain the pest. However, the response continues to depend on investments and actions by individual Member States – which have often been insufficient.


Klapwijk and colleagues endorse the suggestion by Hulme et al. (2009) that the European Commission establish a single agency to respond to introductions of any kind of invasive species (not just tree pests) – modeled on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.


Finally, Klapwijk and colleagues note the importance of engaging the public.  Citizens’ participation can enhance early detection and strengthen public support for management strategies.




We Americans are very lucky that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had fairly stringent rules governing plant imports before the World Trade Organization and SPS Agreement were negotiated in the 1990s.  We don’t have the burden of proving that imports of large plants (small trees!) in soil is too risky. (This not to say that U.S. regulations should not be tightened further for the most high-risk imports. See Fading Forests III here).  Europeans should be able to build their case for more restrictive trade rules on existing risk assessments and practices utilized by the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and others; on the numerous studies published in recent years that describe recent introductions to Europe and the pathways by which they entered; and by the number of those introductions alone.  (To see what has been introduced, visit the website of the European and Mediterranean Plant Pest Organization (EPPO) here)


One important step in improving U.S. rules would be to finalize the proposal – put forward in 2013 – to depend more on integrated measures or systems approaches rather than inspection at the port of entry.  Join with me in urging the Secretary of Agriculture to finalize this proposal before he leaves office in January.   Contact me via the “contact us” button on the webpage to learn how you can help.


The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. This means that the U.K. has the opportunity – and burden – of developing its own phytosanitary regulations. The U.K. has some of the leading forest pathologists and entomologists. The risk is obvious to all – especially Phytophthora ramorum in larch plantations and ash dieback disease in many areas of the country. I hope that the British will seize this opportunity to adopt really effective phytosanitary regulations that can serve as a model for the rest of Europe – and possibly even the U.S.





Maartje J. Klapwijk, Anna J. M. Hopkins, Louise Eriksson, Maria Pettersson, Martin Schroeder,A°ke Lindelo¨w, Jonas Ro¨nnberg, E. Carina H. Keskitalo, Marc Kenis. 2016. Reducing the risk of invasive forest pests and pathogens: Combining legislation, targeted management and public awareness. Ambio 2016, 45(Suppl. 2):S223–S234  DOI 10.1007/s13280-015-0748-3


Hulme, P.E. 2009. Trade, transport and trouble: Managing invasive species pathways in an era of globalization.  Journal of Applied Ecology 46:10-18


Posted by Faith Campbell

On the Road to Extinction, Invasive Plants Do Have Significant Impacts

Lantana camarata

No studies have documented extinction of a native plant species caused by invasive ones. This has led to questions about whether invasive plants have truly significant impacts. (Of course, species extinction is not the only important impact).

These questions have been answered in a recent article by Paul Downey (of the Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra) and David Richardson (of the Centre for Invasion Biology at Stellenbosch University, South Africa). A link to the article is provided at the end of this blog.

Downey and Richardson argue that studies have documented instances of invasive plant species putting native plants on the path – or trajectory – to extinction. Furthermore, plants go extinct more slowly than animals, often over centuries. As result, current approaches to analyzing impacts of invasive plants underestimate the damage that non-native species cause because they assume extinction will not result.

The authors name six “thresholds” along the trajectory to plant extinction. Each is affected by invasive plants:

  1. Plants die more quickly than they can be replaced by their offspring in some locations.
  2. Plants disappear from some locations entirely, but seeds or spores remain that could regenerate a new cohort of individuals.
  3. Some locations lose both individual plants and their propagules. This is a local extinction.
  4. The last locations hosting a species lose their individual plants, but in some places seeds or spores remain in the soil.
  5. The species is entirely lost in the wild with no individuals or propagules. The only survivors are held in botanic collections.
  6. Extinction. The remaining plants are lost, and the remaining seeds or spores are no longer capable of becoming new plants.

By focusing purely on full extinction — step six — plant conservationists lose sight of the threats to species as they occur and accumulate at each stage of the process. Without such attention we fail to act on opportunities to protect the species and counter the wider impacts of its disappearance.

Downey and Richardson note that plant invasions affect each component of a plant species’ population dynamics:  fecundity (seed production); death; immigration; and emigration (dispersal). Yet they could find no studies that have explored the effects of alien plants for all four components collectively.

A second explanation for scientists’ not documenting any extinctions caused by invasive plants is that it is extremely difficult to prove that every last individual or propagle of a plant species is dead . Many plant species have long-lived seed banks in the soil, or can regenerate from underground structures – so it is hard to know when that species is truly gone. This is especially true since seed banks are rarely monitored.

Furthermore, many of the conditions needed to demonstrate that alien plants have caused the extinction of native plant species have either not been measured, or have been examined for too short a time. The IUCN definition of extinction requires that data be collected over “a period that is appropriate for the life cycle of the species” (IUCN. 2014. Guidelines for using the IUCN Red List categories and criteria. Version 11. Prepared by the Standards and Petitions Subcommittee. Switzerland). Given the long persistence of plant species, the “appropriate period” exceeds the timeline almost all of even the few long-term studies in invasion ecology.


Downey and Richardson say that relying on changes in species richness to assess the impacts of alien plants will not adequately predict or describe the effects of invasion. Such analysis especially will not provide evidence for a species crossing from Threshold 1 to 2 or 3 . Indeed, they assert, collective species richness measures could mask losses of some species in instances where additional species are also recorded (i.e. the losses are off-set by additions).


The authors have found abundant evidence of invasive plants driving native plants along this extinction trajectory. They cite several examples of an invasive plant causing a “threshold effect” – that is, increases in alien plant cover or density result in decreased native plant species diversity or richness. They define this as the native species crossing from Threshold 1 to 2. Among the examples provided are several species in Australia and New Zealand and Lonicera maackii in the United States.


The authors also provide examples of species causing “extinction debts” – that is, a significant time lag between the introduction of an alien species initiating a native species’ movement along the trajectory and its actual extinction. One mechanism is by reducing native plants’ seed production. Again, Lonicera maackii is cited.

Downey and Richardson also note the potential downsides of invasive plant control measures.

In the end, the authors urge that scientists “… shift attention away from the end point of the extinction trajectory … to give due consideration of the full series of processes that drive declines of populations of native species.”

As Richardson has said in an interview with Oxford University Press, “… There is absolutely no doubt that alien plant invasions are eating away at native plant biodiversity. Many native plant species — probably HUNDREDS of species — are precariously close to being functionally extinct and survive as the ‘living dead’.’”


Source: Downey, P.O., D.M. Richardson. 2016. Alien plant invasions and native plant extinctions: a six-threshold framework. AoB Plants, 2016; 8: plw047 DOI: 10.1093/aobpla/plw047 ; open access, available at


Posted by Faith Campbell

Campbell Wins Award from State Foresters



We are delighted to note that CISP Vice President Dr. Faith Campbell recently received the John Shannon Current Achievement Award for Partnerships from the National Association of State Foresters (NASF).

She was among nine individuals honored on September 21, 2016, at the group’s annual meeting in Savannah, Georgia. All recipients “have made outstanding contributions in wildland fire protection, urban and community forestry, forest management and overall leadership” according to NASF. Each was nominated by the organization’s members and partners for accomplishments in promoting, supporting and strengthening the forestry community nationwide. “Every year we are inspired by the achievements of so many leaders and partners in the forestry community, who are working to ensure the future sustainability of our nation’s trees and forests,” said Wisconsin State Forester Paul DeLong and NASA President.*

The Association noted that Faith has spent more than twenty years working on invasive species issues for several environmental or conservation organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, American Lands, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

We at CISP couldn’t agree more that Faith is an inspiring and long-standing leader. She has extraordinary expertise regarding the non-native forest pests that threaten our Nation’s forests. Her voice is forthright and insistent — urging us ever onward to strengthen national and international policy to limit these burgeoning threats.


Please join us in congratulating her on this much-deserved honor.

Peter Jenkins

Phyllis Windle



* NASF press release at:



Invaders Put Another Bird at Risk


i`iwi; photo by James Petruzzi; courtesy of American Bird Conservancy

As noted in an earlier blog (“When Will Invasive Species Get the Respect They Deserve?” May 2016),  invasive species can cause extinctions – especially on islands.  I have posted other blogs about the invasional meltdown in Hawai`i (“Hawaii’s unique forests now threatened by insects and pathogens” October 2015).

A further demonstration of the meltdown is the decision by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to propose listing  another Hawaiian honeycreeper (bird) – the i`iwi (Drepanis (Vestiaria) coccinea) as a threatened species.  Already, some 20 Hawaiian forest birds are protected under the Endangered Species Act.  Many, although not all, are threatened by the same factors as the i`iwi.

The proposal, which summarizes an extensive supporting report, is available here.  USFWS is accepting comments on the proposal that are submitted to the USFWS’  website before November 21.

The proposal documents the tragedy of Hawai`i. The i`iwi was once almost ubiquitous on the islands, from sea level to the tree line. Today the bird is missing from Lanai; and reduced to a few individuals on Oahu, Molokai, and west Maui. Remaining populations of i`iwi are largely restricted to forests above ~ 3,937 ft (1,200 m) on Hawaii Island (Big Island), east Maui, and Kauai.

In the past, hunting for the bird’s striking red feathers and agricultural conversion doubtless affected the i`iwi’s populations. Since the early 20th Century, though, the threats have all been invasive species.

The USFWS has concluded that the principal threat is disease: introduced avian malaria  — caused by the protozoan Plasmodium relictum and vectored by introduced mosquitoes (Culex quinquefasciatus). A second disease, Avian pox (Avipoxvirus sp.), is also present but scientists have not been able to separate its effects from those of malaria. Both vectored by the southern house mosquito.

I`iwi are very susceptible to avian malaria; in lab tests, 95% of birds died.


I’iwi on `ohi`a blossom at Hakalau NWR; photo by Daniel J. Lebbin; courtesy of American Bird Conservancy

I`iwi alive now have survived because they live in forests at sufficiently high elevations; there, cooler temperatures reduce the numbers of mosquitoes, and thus transmission of the disease.  However, the birds must fly to lower elevations in certain seasons to find flowering plants (the i`iwi feeds on nectar) – and then becomes exposed to mosquitoes.

Worse, climate change has already caused warming at higher elevations, and is projected to have a greater impact in the future.  The rising temperatures predicted to occur – even if countries meet their commitments from the December 2015 meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – will result in upslope movement of mosquitoes. As a result, according to three studies reviewed by the USFWS, the i`iwi will lose 60 – 90% of its current (already limited) disease-free range by the end of this century, with significant effects occurring by 2050.

I`iwi occur primarily in closed canopy, montane wet or montane mesic forests composed of tall-stature `ohi`a (Metrosideros polymorpha) trees or in mixed forests of `ohi`a and koa (Acacia koa) trees. The i`iwi’s diet consists primarily of nectar from the flowers of `ohi`a  and several other plants, with occasional insects and spiders.



Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge; USFWS photo

The i`iwi’s dependence on `ohi`a creates another peril, because `ohi`a trees are vulnerable to alien diseases – both ohia rust and, especially, rapid ohia death or Ceratocystis ohia wilt. (Read descriptions of both diseases here.  As of September 2016, rapid ohia death has been found only on Hawai`i – the “Big Island”. However, 90% of all i`iwi currently reside on the Big Island! Worse, in future the relatively large area of high-elevation `ohi`a dominated forest on the Big Island was expected to be the principal refuge of the i`iwi from the anticipated climate-driven up-slope movement of malaria. However, as just noted, the Big Island’s trees are now being killed by disease. If rapid ohia death continues to spread across the native `ohi`a forests – on Hawai`i and potentially on the other islands – it  will directly threaten i`iwi by eliminating the limited, malaria-free native forest areas that remain for the species.

Rapid `ohi`a death (ROD) is caused by two distinct strains of the widely introduced pathogen Ceratocystis fimbriata.  It was first detected in the Puna District of Hawai`i in 2012. The disease has since been detected across a widening area of the Big Island, including on the dry side of island in Kona District (See map here.  The total area infested has increased rapidly, from ~6,000 acres in 2012 to 38,000 acres in June 2016.  Since symptoms do not emerge for more than a year after infection, the infested area is probably larger.  ROD kills `ohi`a in all size and age classes. There is no apparent limit based on soil types, climate, or elevation. O`hi`a growing throughout the islands appears to be vulnerable, from cracks in new volcanic areas to weathered soils; in dry as well as mesic and wet climates. The pathogen is probably spread by spores sticking to wood-boring insects and – over short distances – wind transport of insect frass.

Federal and state agencies are spending $850,000 on research on the disease, possible vectors, and potential containment measures.  Additional funds would be needed to implement any strategies, and to expand outreach  to try to limit human movement of infected plants or soil.

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture adopted an interim rule in August, 2015  which restricts the movement of `ohi`a plants, plant parts, wood, and frass and sawdust from Hawai`i Island to neighboring islands. Soil was included in the interim rule with an effective date of January 1, 2016. In March 2016, HDOA approved permit conditions for movement of soil to other islands. The interim rule is expected to be made permanent at a meeting of the Board of Agriculture on 18 October.

Other invasive species threatening the i`iwi are feral ungulates, including pigs (Sus scrofa), goats (Capra hircus), and axis deer (Axis axis).  All degrade `ohi`a forest habitat by spreading nonnative plant seeds and grazing on and trampling native vegetation. Their impact is exacerbated by the large number of invasive nonnative plants, which prevent or retard regeneration of `ohi`a forest. Drought combined with invasion by nonnative grasses have promoted increased fire frequency and the conversion of mesic `ohi`a woodland to exotic grassland in many areas of Hawaii.

The feral pigs pose a particular threat because by wallowing and overturning tree ferns (Cibotium spp.)  they create pools of standing water in which the mosquitoes breed.  The US FWS has concluded that management of feral pigs – across large landscapes – might be a strategic component of programs aimed at managing avian malaria and pox.

One possible source of hope: research into genetic manipulation of the mosquito disease vector by using tools from synthetic biology and genomics (see draft species status report . Considerable research is probably necessary before such a tool might be implemented.

Threat of Plant Pest Threat to Endangered Animals is Not Limited to Hawai`i

The USFWS is struggling to deal with the threat posed by plant pests to listed species. In San Diego, California, FWS personnel are trying to decide how to address the threat posed by the Kuroshio shot hole borer (read description here  to willows which constitute essential riparian habitat for the least Bell’s vireo.

Numerous cactus species that have been listed as endangered or threatened might be attacked by two insects from Argentina, the cactus moth and Harissia cactus mealybug (see my blog from October 2015; or read descriptions here .


Endangered Species Agencies Need to Coordinate with Phytosanitary Agencies

A growing number of species listed under the Endangered Species Act are being threatened by damage to plants from non-native plant insects and pathogens. This growing damage affects not just listed plants – such as the cacti mentioned in this and the October blogs; but also plants that are vitally important habitat components on which listed animals depend. The USFWS needs to engage with other federal and state agencies and academic institutions which are working to prevent introduction of additional plant pests, slow the spread of those already in the United States, and develop and implement strategies intended to restore plant species that have been seriously depleted by such pests. The USFWS should, therefore, work more closely with USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Forest Service. USFWS must, of course, continue to work with experts in wildlife and wildlife disease.

Similarly, state wildlife agencies also need to coordinate their efforts with their counterparts in state departments of Agriculture and divisions of Forestry.

Many agencies in Hawai`i play crucial roles in protecting the Islands’ unique plant and animal communities:

  • U.S. Department of the Interior: Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, United States Geological Service Biological Resources Division
  • US. Department of Agriculture: APHIS, Forest Service, Agriculture Research Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture
  • US. Department of Homeland Security Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.
  • Hawai`i State Department of Agriculture and Department of Land and Natural Resources

Hawaiians of all types – federal and state employees and agencies, academics, and conservationists – deserve our thanks for promptly taking action of rapid ohia death.  All parties should make every effort to obtain the remainder of the funds needed to carry forward crucial research on ROD and avian malaria.  Those of us from the mainland need to support and help their efforts.


Posted by Faith Campbell