Phylogenetic risk assessment is robust for forecasting the impact of European insects on North American conifers

Daniel R. Uden, Angela M. Mech, Nathan P. Havill, Ashley N. Schulz, Matthew P. Ayres, Daniel A. Herms, Angela M. Hoover, Kamal J.K. Gandhi, Ruth A. Hufbauer, Andrew M. Liebhold, Travis D. Marsico, Kenneth F. Raffa, Kathryn A. Thomas, Patrick C. Tobin, Craig R. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Some introduced species cause severe damage, although the majority have little impact. Robust predictions of which species are most likely to cause substantial impacts could focus efforts to mitigate those impacts or prevent certain invasions entirely. Introduced herbivorous insects can reduce crop yield, fundamentally alter natural and managed forest ecosystems, and are unique among invasive species in that they require certain host plants to succeed. Recent studies have demonstrated that understanding the evolutionary history of introduced herbivores and their host plants can provide robust predictions of impact. Specifically, divergence times between hosts in the native and introduced ranges of a nonnative insect can be used to predict the potential impact of the insect should it establish in a novel ecosystem. However, divergence time estimates vary among published phylogenetic datasets, making it crucial to understand if and how the choice of phylogeny affects prediction of impact. Here, we tested the robustness of impact prediction to variation in host phylogeny by using insects that feed on conifers and predicting the likelihood of high impact using four different published phylogenies. Our analyses ranked 62 insects that are not established in North America and 47 North American conifer species according to overall risk and vulnerability, respectively. We found that results were robust to the choice of phylogeny. Although published vascular plant phylogenies continue to be refined, our analysis indicates that those differences are not substantial enough to alter the predictions of invader impact. Our results can assist in focusing biosecurity programs for conifer pests and can be more generally applied to nonnative insects and their potential hosts by prioritizing surveillance for those insects most likely to be damaging invaders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2761
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • conifer
  • herbivore
  • invasive species
  • phylogeny
  • risk analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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