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Insect Stowaways Have Nowhere to Go Thanks to New Standards

May 15, 2014 05:26 PM EDT

New international standards for international trade packaging are significantly slowing the rate at which "stowaway" insects find their way into the United States, protecting tenuous ecosystems, a new study suggests.

Invasive wood boring insects have long been a problem for the US. Hitching a ride in untreated wood crates, pallets, and even fire wood, these insects show up in America to wreak havoc on native plant-life. The Asian gypsy moth and longhorn beetle in particular have become infamous in the US, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) taking desperate and costly measures to limit their spread.

The USDA's Northern Research Station issued a report in 2011 estimating that invasive wood boring insects "cause the largest economic impacts by annually inducing nearly $1.7 billion in local government expenditures for tree removal and replacement and approximately $830 million in lost residential property values."

However, a new study published in PLoS One, has revealed that a change in international standards for wood packaging material has resulted in a 52 percent drop in the infection rate of international imports entering the US.

According to an analysis conducted by researchers from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), the International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures No. 15 (ISPM 15) has led to reduced infection rate in all of the 78 countries that implemented the measures as of October 2013.

Using Data from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), researchers compared packaging infestation rates from 2 years prior to U.S. implementation of the new international standards (between 2005 and 2006) and infestation rates in the first 4 years after the standards were implemented.

They were happy to find that the ISPM 15 was more than 50 percent effective. However, author of the study Robert Hack argues that these numbers could be even higher.

"It is also important to remember that ISPM15 is not static. Several changes have been made since the first version of ISPM15 was published in 2002, and more changes will likely follow," he wrote

According to Hack, each change to the policy will maintain or even improve its effectiveness, potentially improving future data and further protecting the US ecosystem.

The study was published in PLoS One on May 14.

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