Ecological, Economic Damage
Invasive insects—from Asian longhorned beetles to South American fire ants—are a big and costly problem for North America. (Related: "Alien Beetles Tracked with "Ray Guns," Dental Floss" [October 16, 2006].)
"The Mediterranean fruit fly is one of the most destructive pests and has frequently invaded California," Tatem said. "It decimates fruit crops and is very expensive to eradicate."
And a beetle called the emerald ash borer, which hails from eastern Asia, is currently munching its way through forests near Detroit, Michigan.
"There is now nothing we can do to stop it, and eventually it is likely to kill most of the ash trees in North America," said Sandy Liebhold, a specialist on forest insects from the Forestry Sciences Laboratory in Morgantown, West Virginia.
Hopefully, though, the new findings will help stop the foreign pests from arriving in the first place.
"One way this analysis could be used immediately would be for agencies to target limited resources on the airports and times of the year when the risk of invasions is highest," said biologist David M. Lodge of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
Australia and New Zealand already have strict fumigation and control policies at their airports, and this may soon become common elsewhere.
"It is much more effective to prevent something from arriving in the first place," Liebhold said, "than to try and deal with it after it has arrived."
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