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Goal: Apply Knowledge Globally Assessing the vulnerability of tree species to insect and disease threats

Redbay trees
Laurel wilt, a combination of an exotic insect and an exotic disease, is killing millions of redbay trees throughout the Southeast, including in Georgia. (Forest Service photo by Kevin M. Potter)


What are the most serious insect and disease threats to each of our native tree species? Which tree species are most vulnerable to insects and diseases? A team of researchers answered these questions in two papers published in the journals Global Ecology and Conservation and Forests.


Diseases and insects, particularly those that are non-native and invasive, pose a destructive threat to North American forests. Tree species, however, differ in important traits such as life-history strategies and population dynamics, which could drive varying responses to these threats. To address this challenge, a team of researchers implemented a national framework to prioritize forest tree species for conservation, management and monitoring in the face of insect and disease threats. They first compiled a list of the most serious insect and disease threats for each of 419 native tree species, and then assigned a severity rating for each of the 1378 combinations between tree hosts and insect and disease agents. This work, including maps of hotspots of potential forest impacts associated with insects and diseases, was described in the journal Forests. The researchers then combined this list with tree species trait data as part of the Project CAPTURE priority-setting framework (Conservation Assessment and Prioritization of Forest Trees Under Risk of Extirpation). Data-driven and guided by expert opinion, Project CAPTURE groups species into vulnerability classes that may require different management and conservation strategies. This effort, described in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation, identified 15 species that require the most immediate conservation intervention, as well as others that could be targets for less urgent management actions.