Seeds attached to refrigerated shipping containers represent a substantial risk of nonnative plant species introduction and establishment.
The initial processes for successful biological invasions are transport, introduction, and establishment. These can be directly influenced or completely avoided through activities that reduce the number and frequency of entering nonnative propagules. Economic and environmental benefits through preventative monitoring programs at early stages of invasion far outweigh the long-term costs associated with mitigating ecological and economic impacts once nonnative species establish and spread. In this study, we identified 30 taxa of hitchhiking plant propagules on the air-intake grilles of refrigerated shipping containers arriving into a United States seaport from a port on the Pacific coast of South America. The four monocotyledonous taxa with the highest number of seeds collected were analyzed; we estimated propagule pressure, germination, and survivorship of these taxa, and we used the estimates to determine likelihood of establishment. At the levels of propagule pressure estimated here, non-zero germination and survival rates resulted in high establishment probabilities even when escape rates from shipping containers were modelled to be exceedingly low. Our results suggest high invasion risk for nonnative taxa including Saccharum spontaneum L., a listed Federal Noxious Weed. Currently, not all shipping containers arriving at USA ports are thoroughly inspected due to limited personnel and funding for biological invasion prevention. Our results indicate that there is a significant risk from only a few propagules escaping into the environment from this source, and we propose possible solutions for reducing this risk.