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  1. Diseases and insects, particularly those that are non-native and invasive, arguably pose the most destructive threat to North American forests. Currently, both exotic and native insects and diseases are producing extensive ecological damage and economic impacts. As part of an effort to identify United States tree species and forests most vulnerable to these epidemics, we compiled a list of the most serious insect and disease threats for 419 native tree species and assigned a severity rating for each of the 1378 combinations between mature tree hosts and 339 distinct insect and disease agents. We then joined this list with datamore »from a spatially unbiased and nationally consistent forest inventory to assess the potential ecological impacts of insect and disease infestations. Specifically, potential host species mortality for each host/agent combination was used to weight species importance values on approximately 132,000 Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) plots across the conterminous 48 United States. When summed on each plot, these weighted importance values represent an estimate of the proportion of the plot’s existing importance value at risk of being lost. These plot estimates were then used to identify statistically significant geographic hotspots and coldspots and of potential forest impacts associated with insects and diseases in total, and for different agent types. In general, the potential impacts of insects and diseases were greater in the West, where there are both fewer agents and less diverse forests. The impact of non-native invasive agents, however, was potentially greater in the East. Indeed, the impacts of current exotic pests could be greatly magnified across much of the Eastern United States if these agents are able to reach the entirety of their hosts’ ranges. Both the list of agent/host severities and the spatially explicit results can inform species-level vulnerability assessments and broad-scale forest sustainability reporting efforts, and should provide valuable information for decision-makers who need to determine which tree species and locations to target for monitoring efforts and pro-active management activities.« less
  2. The influences of human and physical factors on species invasions have been extensively examined by ecologists across many regions. However, how habitat fragmentation per se may affect forest insect and disease invasion has not been well studied, especially the related patterns over regional or subcontinental scales. Here, using national survey data on forest pest richness and fragmentation data across United States forest ecosystems, we examine how forest fragmentation and edge types (neighboring land cover) may affect pest richness at the county level. Our results show that habitat fragmentation and edge types both affected pest richness. In general, specialist insects andmore »pathogens were more sensitive to fragmentation and edge types than generalists, while pathogens were much less sensitive to fragmentation and edge types than insect pests. Most importantly, the developed land edge type contributed the most to the richness of nonnative insects and diseases, whether measured by the combination of all pest species or by separate guilds or species groups (i.e., generalists vs. specialists, insects vs. pathogens). This observation may largely reflect anthropogenic effects, including propagule pressure associated with human activities. These results shed new insights into the patterns of forest pest invasions, and it may have significant implications for forest restoration and management.« less
  3. Nonnative pests often cause cascading ecological impacts, leading to detrimental socioeconomic consequences; however, how plant diversity may influence insect and disease invasions remains unclear. High species diversity in host communities may promote pest invasions by providing more niches (i.e., facilitation), but it can also diminish invasion success because low host dominance may make it more difficult for pests to establish (i.e., dilution). Most studies to date have focused on small-scale, experimental, or individual pest/disease species, while large-scale empirical studies, especially in natural ecosystems, are extremely rare. Using subcontinental-level data, we examined the role of tree diversity on pest invasion acrossmore »the conterminous United States and found that the tree-pest diversity relationships are hump-shaped. Pest diversity increases with tree diversity at low tree diversity (because of facilitation or amplification) and is reduced at higher tree diversity (as a result of dilution). Thus, tree diversity likely regulates forest pest invasion through both facilitation and dilution that operate simultaneously, but their relative strengths vary with overall diversity. Our findings suggest the role of native species diversity in regulating nonnative pest invasions.

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  4. Research Highlights: We demonstrate a macroscale framework combining an invasibility model with forest inventory data, and evaluate regional forest exposure to harmful invasive plants under different types of forest protection. Background and Objectives: Protected areas are a fundamental component of natural resource conservation. The exposure of protected forests to invasive plants can impede achievement of conservation goals, and the effectiveness of protection for limiting forest invasions is uncertain. We conducted a macroscale assessment of the exposure of protected and unprotected forests to harmful invasive plants in the eastern United States. Materials and Methods: Invasibility (the probability that a forest sitemore »has been invaded) was estimated for 82,506 inventory plots from site and landscape attributes. The invaded forest area was estimated by using the inventory sample design to scale up plot invasibility estimates to all forest area. We compared the invasibility and the invaded forest area of seven categories of protection with that of de facto protected (publicly owned) forest and unprotected forest in 13 ecological provinces. Results: We estimate approximately 51% of the total forest area has been exposed to harmful invasive plants, including 30% of the protected forest, 38% of the de facto protected forest, and 56% of the unprotected forest. Based on cumulative invasibility, the relative exposure of protection categories depended on the assumed invasibility threshold. Based on the invaded forest area, the five least-exposed protection categories were wilderness area (13% invaded), national park (18%), sustainable use (26%), nature reserve (31%), and de facto protected Federal land (36%). Of the total uninvaded forest area, only 15% was protected and 14% had de facto protection. Conclusions: Any protection is better than none, and public ownership alone is as effective as some types of formal protection. Since most of the remaining uninvaded forest area is unprotected, landscape-level management strategies will provide the most opportunities to conserve it.« less
  5. Ecological communities often exhibit greater resistance to biological invasions when these communities consist of species that are not closely related. The effective size of this resistance, however, varies geographically. Here we investigate the drivers of this heterogeneity in the context of known contributions of native trees to the resistance of forests in the eastern United States of America to plant invasions. Using 42,626 spatially referenced forest community observations, we quantified spatial heterogeneity in relationships between evolutionary relatedness amongst native trees and both invasive plant species richness and cover. We then modelled the variability amongst the 91 ecological sections of ourmore »study area in the slopes of these relationships in response to three factors known to affect invasion and evolutionary relationships –environmental harshness (as estimated via tree height), relative tree density and environmental variability. Invasive species richness and cover declined in plots having less evolutionarily related native trees. The degree to which they did, however, varied considerably amongst ecological sections. This variability was explained by an ecological section’s mean maximum tree height and, to a lesser degree, SD in maximum tree height ( R 2 GLMM = 0.47 to 0.63). In general, less evolutionarily related native tree communities better resisted overall plant invasions in less harsh forests and in forests where the degree of harshness was more homogenous. These findings can guide future investigations aimed at identifying the mechanisms by which evolutionary relatedness of native species affects exotic species invasions and the environmental conditions under which these effects are most pronounced.« less