Building an International Sentinel Plant Network
Volume 8 Number 2 - July 2011
Andrea Kramer and Abby Hird
An International Sentinel Plant Network
“An International Sentinel Plant Network has been proposed as a formal structure under which gardens can act individually and collectively to increase the predictive power of their collections, and to engage other partners who can use this information”.
Specifically, it has been proposed that botanic gardens and arboreta from around the world work together to form an ISPN, where living plant collections information is dynamically connected and capable of serving as an early warning system to predict, detect, and prevent the incursion of new invasive pests (insects, plant pathogens, or invasive plants). The idea of a sentinel network focused on invasive species is not new, and in a few cases model programs (such as New Zealand’s expatriate plant pilot program) have been successfully implemented on a national scale (see Britton et al., 2010 and Box 1).
A clear example of why an ISPN could help mitigate environmental and economic costs via early detection and prevention of new pests comes from the 2002 discovery of the Emerald Ash Borer in Michigan, United States. The infestation of this beetle (native to Asia) was not identified in time to eradicate it and prevent its spread, and its range is now rapidly increasing throughout the United States and Canada. After only five years, over 53 million native ash trees (Fraxinus spp.) were killed by the beetle, and in the next ten years the infestation is predicted to cost an estimated $10.7 billion to treat, remove, and replace the more than 17 million planted ash trees likely to be killed in urban areas alone (Kovacs et al., 2010). In hindsight, if an ISPN had been in place, botanic gardens in Asia growing North American ash species potentially could have reported any unusual insect damage, and the extreme susceptibility of North American ash trees to the Emerald Ash Borer could have been predicted and measures put in place to monitor and eradicate occurrences before they became too large to control. Further, a monitoring network of gardens and garden visitors in the United States may have helped detect the pest early enough to eradicate it.
Below, we present results of a recent global survey aimed at identifying current capacity to monitor for potentially new and invasive insects, plant pathogens, and plants in the botanical community, and discuss key steps botanic gardens and arboreta around the world can take to be a part of establishing an ISPN.
BGCI’s International Sentinel Plant Network Survey
Figure 1: Map of 146 institutions responding to the ISPN survey. Colors indicate whether institutions offer assistance with pest, pathogen or plant identification to visitors (yes = green, no = orange, gray = don’t know). Ninety percent (90%) of responding institutions provide assistance on these topics.
Sixty five percent (65%) of responding institutions have invasive species policies or programs in place to help minimize the risks posed by insect pests, plant pathogens, or potentially new invasive plants. An additional 29% don’t yet have invasive species policies or programs in place, but would like to.
Staff and Resources
Many respondent institutions employ expertise to identify and address invasive species, including in the fields of horticulture (86.8%), plant taxonomy (74.3%), entomology (35.4%), plant pathology (29.2%), and mycology (16.7%) (Figure 2).
Outside Resources and Partners
Insect pests and plant pathogens
• With support from the US Department of Agriculture, the American Public Gardens Association is working with the National Plant Diagnostic Network to engage public garden professionals, volunteers, and visitors in the detection and diagnosis of high consequence pests and pathogens: www.publicgardens.org/content/sentinel-plant-network.
• The Morton Arboretum’s online Plant Health Care Reports provide detailed monthly updates on the occurrence of pests and pathogens on their collections and in the Chicago area: www.mortonarb.org/tree-plant-advice/category/97/plant-health-care-reports.html.
• The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne has developed a Pest Database, Biosecurity Policy, and Weed Strategic Plan to provide principles and practices that reduce the risk of new pest introductions to and from its landscape: www.rbg.vic.gov.au/horticulture/environmental-management/biosecurity and 7-13 in this issue.
• The European Botanic Gardens Consortium shares information and policy on potentially invasive alien plants in botanic gardens: http://plantnetwork.org/ebg-consortium/alien-plants/
• The Chicago Botanic Garden has endorsed the Voluntary Codes of Conduct for Botanic Gardens and is implementing the Codes as detailed in its invasive plants policy: www.chicagobotanic.org/research/conservation/invasive/policy.php.
• The Australian Botanic Gardens Weed Network was established in 2003 and includes 75 member institutions that developed common invasive plant policies and procedures, as well as a weed risk assessment procedure and management software (Spencer et al., 2006): www.bganz.org.au/resources.
• In the U.S., staff at the University of Washington Botanic Garden and Montgomery Botanical Center have partnered with others to develop a Weed Risk Assessment for botanic garden decision making: www.bgci.org/files/Dublin2010/papers/Husby-Chad.pdf.
How your institution can get involved
Use your living collections to support research on invasive species if you have the resources to do so. If not, make your collections available to support the research of other collaborators and partners.
Regionally and Nationally
Use PlantSearch now to connect directly to other living collections managers on a species-by-species basis. For example, use PlantSearch’s request function to ask other garden staff if they have detected certain pests on a specific plant, or if they have seen invasive characteristics in certain plant species in certain environments.
Finally, make sure your institution’s GardenSearch profile is up-to-date (www.bgci.org/garden_search.php), especially if you maintain resources, expertise, and policies relevant to an ISPN (see Figure 2). Future updates to BGCI’s databases will allow users to access information about specific resources, expertise, and eventually plant collections at gardens around the world. This information will help form the basis of an International Sentinel Plant Network, and allow us to deliver tools, information and updates to appropriate staff at botanical institutions.
Thanks to all survey respondents, and to Suzanne Sharrock, Xiangying Wen, Igor Smirnov, Nikita Mergelov, Mikhail Romanov, Ekaterina Eglis, and Brigitta Wimmer for assistance with survey distribution and translation in Europe, Australia, China and Russia.
Botanic gardens and alien invasive species
BGjournal Vol 8(2), July 2012. Download the complete issue as a pdf document here