Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Reducing uncertainty in species management: forecasting secondary spread with expert opinion and mechanistic models.

Abstract

Predicting the spatial and temporal dynamics of invasive species is critical for successful management intervention, yet substantial uncertainty exists about how species will interact with human pathways when introduced to new ecosystems. We demonstrate a novel approach for quantifying uncertainty when predicting the uptake, movement, and establishment of invasive species by combining mechanistic modeling of the spread process with expert opinion of the demographic factors that govern species performance. We demonstrate the utility of this approach using a case study involving the transfer potential of nonindigenous species (NIS) in the Laurentian Great Lakes basin (GLB). A survey using structured expert judgment was completed by 24 North American taxonomic experts, covering 60 species of NIS established in the GLB. Experts estimated species-specific demographic parameters describing population growth and establishment potential, which were incorporated into an existing mechanistic model of human-mediated spread via ballast water with species-specific spread rates (number of ports or lakes invaded/year) as outputs. Expert judgments within each group varied widely, indicating that generalizable rates of spread across taxa are unlikely and highlighting the value of cross-taxon comparisons. Most species were predicted to establish throughout the GLB within 10 yr, assuming status quo management conditions. Sensitivity analysis for expert performance-based weighting demonstrated that most model outputs were insensitive to weighting (<1% difference over baseline) and shows the robustness of the joint model. Overall, the joint expert opinion and predictive modeling method demonstrates a novel means of handling sparse data when forecasting invasion dynamics. Divergent estimates resulted in a range of likely spread rates, but improved upon traditional best-guess approaches. Incorporating joint methods into ecological decision-making frameworks has clear implications for invasive species management but may also inform other ecological scenarios where data are scarce and conservation action is urgent.