Horticultural imports into the United States are estimated at about five billion plants each year—meaning it’s likely that many of the plants in your home, your office building, or your local conservatory originally came from an international plant grower.
While the trade in live plants is an important contributor to the global economy, historically, it has also been a major pathway for introducing invasive species into ecosystems. To help prevent imported plants from introducing non-native pests and diseases, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) routinely inspects all incoming plants at each US port. Recently, however, APHIS recognized a need to better understand the risks of plants grown in various parts of the world in order to more efficiently allocate inspection resources.
To address this need, Dr. Andrew (Sandy) Liebhold, a research entomologist at USDA Forest Service, and Dr. Rebecca Epanchin-Niell, a resource economist at Resources for the Future, led collaborative team-based synthesis research funded by the University of Maryland’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). Bringing together scientists across disciplines, as well as key stakeholders from the horticultural industry and government regulating agencies, this pursuit sought to develop efficient strategies that regulators could adopt to lower the risk of invasive species entering ecosystems via live plants.
In a video by Elizabeth Herzfeldt-Kamprath, Plants & Pests, Liebhold and Epanchin-Niell, along with project participant Robert Griffin, share their takeaways from the collaboration. The video is part of SESYNC's Research in Action video series.
Through this collaborative opportunity, participants were able to share their expertise to build a broader understanding of the risk of invasive species associated with trade, the benefits of the live plant trade industry, and the process for adopting and implementing regulatory policies.
“Fortunately, there was an interest in having regulators be part of the activity, so that provided the opening for us to not only provide data, but to actually be active in the process,” said Griffin, a retired USDA APHIS agriculture quarantine inspection expert. “And it was good to understand their perspective as academics and as researchers from the various disciplines they represented, but also how we could come together around shared interests and better policy.”
While the project had many outcomes, one of the most significant was developing models to help inform APHIS’s policy shift to adopt a new risk-based inspection method. Model results showed that using a risk-based inspection strategy could yield better outcomes without increasing its use of resources.
This article has been reprinted with minor changes and permission from the SESYNC website.