Impact assessment is an important and cost‐effective tool for assisting in the identification and prioritization of invasive alien species. With the number of alien and invasive alien species expected to increase, reliance on impact assessment tools for the identification of species that pose the greatest threats will continue to grow. Given the importance of such assessments for management and resource allocation, it is critical to understand the uncertainty involved and what effect this may have on the outcome. Using an uncertainty typology and insects as a model taxon, we identified and classified the causes and types of uncertainty when performing impact assessments on alien species. We assessed 100 alien insect species across two rounds of assessments with each species independently assessed by two assessors. Agreement between assessors was relatively low for all three impact classification components (mechanism, severity, and confidence) after the first round of assessments. For the second round, we revised guidelines and gave assessors access to each other’s assessments which improved agreement by between 20% and 30% for impact mechanism, severity, and confidence. Of the 12 potential reasons for assessment discrepancies identified a priori, 11 were found to occur. The most frequent causes (and types) of uncertainty (i.e., differences between assessment outcomes for the same species) were as follows: incomplete information searches (systematic error), unclear mechanism and/or extent of impact (subjective judgment due to a lack of knowledge), and limitations of the assessment framework (context dependence). In response to these findings, we identify actions that may reduce uncertainty in the impact assessment process, particularly for assessing speciose taxa with diverse life histories such as Insects. Evidence of environmental impact was available for most insect species, and (of the non‐random original subset of species assessed) 14 of those with evidence were identified as high impact species (with either major or massive impact). Although uncertainty in risk assessment, including impact assessments, can never be eliminated, identifying, and communicating its cause and variety is a first step toward its reduction and a more reliable assessment outcome, regardless of the taxa being assessed.more » « less
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- National Science Foundation
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Assessing the ecological and economic impacts of non-native species is crucial to providing managers and policymakers with the information necessary to respond effectively. Most non-native species have minimal impacts on the environment in which they are introduced, but a small fraction are highly deleterious. The definition of ‘damaging’ or ‘high-impact’ varies based on the factors determined to be valuable by an individual or group, but interpretations of whether non-native species meet particular definitions can be influenced by the interpreter’s bias or level of expertise, or lack of group consensus. Uncertainty or disagreement about an impact classification may delay or otherwise adversely affect policymaking on management strategies. One way to prevent these issues would be to have a detailed, nine-point impact scale that would leave little room for interpretation and then divide the scale into agreed upon categories, such as low, medium, and high impact. Following a previously conducted, exhaustive search regarding non-native, conifer-specialist insects, the authors independently read the same sources and scored the impact of 41 conifer-specialist insects to determine if any variation among assessors existed when using a detailed impact scale. Each of the authors, who were selected to participate in the working group associated with this study because of their diverse backgrounds, also provided their level of expertise and uncertainty for each insect evaluated. We observed 85% congruence in impact rating among assessors, with 27% of the insects having perfect inter-rater agreement. Variance in assessment peaked in insects with a moderate impact level, perhaps due to ambiguous information or prior assessor perceptions of these specific insect species. The authors also participated in a joint fact-finding discussion of two insects with the most divergent impact scores to isolate potential sources of variation in assessor impact scores. We identified four themes that could be experienced by impact assessors: ambiguous information, discounted details, observed versus potential impact, and prior knowledge. To improve consistency in impact decision-making, we encourage groups to establish a detailed scale that would allow all observed and published impacts to fall under a particular score, provide clear, reproducible guidelines and training, and use consensus-building techniques when necessary.more » « less
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Plain Language Summarycan be found within the Supporting Information of this article.
Insect populations are changing rapidly, and monitoring these changes is essential for understanding the causes and consequences of such shifts. However, large‐scale insect identification projects are time‐consuming and expensive when done solely by human identifiers. Machine learning offers a possible solution to help collect insect data quickly and efficiently.
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