Quantifying uncertainty in pest risk maps and assessments: adopting a risk-averse decision maker’s perspective
Pest risk maps are important decision support tools when devising strategies to minimize introductions of invasive organisms and mitigate their impacts. When possible management responses to an invader include costly or socially sensitive activities, decision-makers tend to follow a more certain (i.e., risk-averse) course of action. We presented a new mapping technique that assesses pest invasion risk from the perspective of a risk-averse decision maker. We demonstrated the method by evaluating the likelihood that an invasive forest pest will be transported to one of the U.S. states or Canadian provinces in infested firewood by visitors to U.S. federal campgrounds. We tested the impact of the risk aversion assumption using distributions of plausible pest arrival scenarios generated with a geographically explicit model developed from data documenting camper travel across the study area. Next, we prioritized regions of high and low pest arrival risk via application of two stochastic ordering techniques that employed, respectively, first- and second-degree stochastic dominance rules, the latter of which incorporated the notion of risk aversion. We then identified regions in the study area where the pest risk value changed considerably after incorporating risk aversion. While both methods identified similar areas of highest and lowest risk, they differed in how they demarcated moderate-risk areas. In general, the second-order stochastic dominance method assigned lower risk rankings to moderate-risk areas. Overall, this new method offers a better strategy to deal with the uncertainty typically associated with risk assessments and provides a tractable way to incorporate decisionmaking preferences into final risk estimates, and thus helps to better align these estimates with particular decision-making scenarios about a pest organism of concern. Incorporation of risk aversion also helps prioritize the set of locations to target for inspections and outreach activities, which can be costly. Our results are especially important and useful given the huge number of camping trips that occur each year in the United States and Canada.