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Risk Analysis for Biological Hazards: What We Need to Know about Invasive Species


* Address correspondence to Thomas J. Stohlgren, U.S. Geological Survey, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523; tel: 970-491-1980; fax: 970-491-1965;


Risk analysis for biological invasions is similar to other types of natural and human hazards. For example, risk analysis for chemical spills requires the evaluation of basic information on where a spill occurs; exposure level and toxicity of the chemical agent; knowledge of the physical processes involved in its rate and direction of spread; and potential impacts to the environment, economy, and human health relative to containment costs. Unlike typical chemical spills, biological invasions can have long lag times from introduction and establishment to successful invasion, they reproduce, and they can spread rapidly by physical and biological processes. We use a risk analysis framework to suggest a general strategy for risk analysis for invasive species and invaded habitats. It requires: (1) problem formation (scoping the problem, defining assessment endpoints); (2) analysis (information on species traits, matching species traits to suitable habitats, estimating exposure, surveys of current distribution and abundance); (3) risk characterization (understanding of data completeness, estimates of the “potential” distribution and abundance; estimates of the potential rate of spread; and probable risks, impacts, and costs); and (4) risk management (containment potential, costs, and opportunity costs; legal mandates and social considerations and information science and technology needs).