Purdue helps launch updated website to track invasive insects and diseases in forests

Purdue University and the US Forest Service have launched an updated website to track invasive insects and diseases in US forests.

The Alien Forest Pest Explorer interactive web tool combines information from multiple sources to show the impact of different forest insects and diseases, and the potential for additional damage. The interactive and customizable dashboards are the first to overlay this pest data with related data on the status and health of host tree species in the forest, said Songlin Fei, chair of remote sensing at the dean and professor of forestry and natural resources at Purdue’s College of Agriculture, who spearheaded the project.

“We want to better understand the relationship between pests and host trees, as well as assess the vulnerability of our forests, so that we can make the best decisions to preserve and protect them,” said Fei, who leads the initiative. digital forestry from Purdue. “It was designed for everyone, not just professionals. Pest and disease prevention starts in your garden. We want to put this tool in the hands of everyone who cares for trees so they understand what pests they may be dealing with, how to identify them, and how to protect their trees and forests.

A list of invasive pests and diseases affecting trees in Brown County, Indiana from the Alien Forest Pest Explorer website.

Fei collaborated with Nicole Kong, associate professor of geographic information systems at Purdue, to organize the data, design and develop the Purdue-hosted tool.

“With the COVID pandemic, we’ve all become much more accustomed to using dashboards and realized the empowerment of being able to easily find information and trends specific to our region,” said Kong, who is also part of Purdue’s Digital Forestry Initiative and Associate Dean. for research at the Purdue University Libraries and School of Information Studies. “You can think of this as a COVID dashboard for forest health and pest outbreaks. We have worked to visualize the data in the most useful and intuitive way. »

The Alien Forest Pest Explorer, or AFPE, offers pest species distribution maps; host species growth, mortality and kill rates; as well as trends in host abundance and pest information. Annually updated data has county-level resolution.

The dashboard and its database of information are critical to protecting forest health, said Tracy Tophooven, acting director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Northern Research Station.

“Over the past few centuries, hundreds of invasive insects have been introduced to the United States through various means,” Tophooven said. “This tool integrates critical invasive species research from the Northern Research Station with forest inventory and analysis data to allow users to visualize data at the county level to address local challenges posed by invasive insects.

Trees that have been killed due to exotic pests. Photo courtesy of Purdue College of Agriculture.

USDA Forest Service experts including Forestry Researcher Randall Morin; Andrew Liebhold, research entomologist; and Susan Crocker, forestry researcher, collaborated on the project.

Information presented in the dashboard includes data from the team’s research on the 16 most damaging pest species and an article co-authored by Fei with Morin and Liebhold, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of sciences, as well as data from the Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis Program Database.

“AFPE integrates two critical datasets and makes them available online with custom mapping options,” Morin said. “A user can quickly obtain information about the range of invasive forest pests and their hosts in forests across the United States. Prior to AFPE, this type of information required accessing and downloading multiple datasets and having the knowledge and tools to combine them properly.

“One can zoom in or zoom out and even draw an outline around their area of ​​interest and only see information within that boundary,” Kong said. “In addition, users can search by pest, for example the emerald ash borer, to see where it is in the United States, how much forest volume has been lost since it arrived in an area, or the volume of host trees in a vulnerable area not yet infested.

One telling piece of information the tool illustrates is forest mortality, Fei said.

“Our forests are essential to environmental health,” he said. “Our forests are a huge carbon sink for emissions, but when a tree dies, that carbon is released. Some of the most damaging pest species are killing trees at a rate equivalent to putting millions more cars on the street each year, in terms of carbon emissions. We have to follow this and pay attention to how things are developing. It is much cheaper and easier to maintain a forest than to try to rebuild one.

The Alien Forest Pest Explorer Database is maintained by Purdue, the US Forest Service Northern Research Station, the US Forest Service Forest Health Protection, and the Forest Health Assessment and Applied Sciences team. The project also receives partial funding from the National Science Foundation.

Purdue’s College of Agriculture and the Forest Service have a history of successful collaboration, including a joint nationwide invasive plant project and a nationwide forest biomass and carbon project.

Source: Purdue Agricultural Communications.

Spongy moth larvae. The spongy moth, Lymantria dispar, is an invasive insect that threatens forest health. It is among the 16 most harmful pests in the new Alien Forest Pest Explorer interactive web tool. (Photo courtesy of Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture)

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