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Study uses old friends to predict new enemies


Hemlock woolly adelgid damage is visible on hemlock needles. (Photo by Kathie Hodge)

Scientists incorporate evolutionary history to predict impacts of invading insects

About 450 nonnative, plant-eating insect species live in North American forests. While most are harmless, a handful wreak havoc on their new environment, and their attacks on trees cause more than $70 billion in damage each year.

The problem is, scientists often don’t know which insect will emerge as the next harmful invader.

Now, a team that includes faculty and students from the University of Georgia has developed a way to understand how nonnative insects might behave in their new environments. Drawing largely on the evolutionary history of insect-plant interactions, the team’s model, published this month in the journal Ecology and Evolution, could help foresters predict which insect invasions will be problematic, and help managers decide where to allocate resources to avoid widespread tree death.

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