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  1. Garnas, Jeff R. (Ed.)
    Abstract 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. 
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  2. 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. 
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