FICMNEW Early Warning Workshop Proceedings
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Overview and Summary

Working Group Reports:
Scientific Aspects of Early Warning

Rapid Assessment

Rapid Response

Public Outreach

Operational Framework


Summary of Recommendations

Next Steps

Pre-Workshop Concept Paper

Steering Committee


Photo Gallery


Scientific Aspects of Early Warning

Early Detection, Reporting, Identification, Vouchering, Notification, and Information Management

Group Members: Bill Gregg, Les Mehrhoff, Pat Haragan, Alison Hill, Rick Lewandowski, Larry Morse, Scott Peterson, Mark Skinner, Eric Smith, Susan Timmins, Gary Waggoner



The first and foremost strategy for dealing with new and emerging invasive plants is early detection and reporting of incipient infestations. To do this, the nation will need to develop a framework for delivering reliable and timely reports of new invasions (at various geographic scales) to appropriate officials for rapid assessment. The specific charge of this working group was to conceptualize and outline a coordinated local/state/national interagency framework to:

Encourage early detection of new plant species throughout the United States,
Provide a mechanism for prompt reporting, identification, vouchering, and official notification of appropriate officials when new a state and/or national plant record is confirmed by a recognized specialist,
Provide a coordinated local, state, national, and international framework that will enhance interagency cooperation in detecting and responding to new plant invasions in a timely manner,
Trigger a rapid assessment of a confirmed new species by designated specialists in cooperation with appropriate local, state, and national agencies and organizations.

In general, the proposed system should address invasive plants in all landscapes (e.g., crop lands, range lands, wild lands, natural areas, urban and suburban areas), utilizing existing infrastructures where possible. The success of the system depends on the support and assistance of many individuals and groups that are likely to observe new invasive plants, such as trade and professional organizations, plant field scientists, herbaria staff, farmers, and gardeners. In addition, to be effective, information must flow into and from the system through multiple channels and at multiple levels. All reports should be encouraged, evaluated, and acknowledged by a designated state level network coordinator with ready access to specialists for accurate identification. All new county, state, and national records should be maintained in a web based, distributive information management system that is readily accessible by the public. In short, the ability of officials to mount a timely response to a new invader depends entirely on knowing that it exists. Top



State Early Detection Coordinator. The first step in establishing a State Early Detection System for Invasive Plants would be for the State Invasive Species Council to designate a State Early Detection Coordinator. The Coordinator (a botanist or weed specialist from a college, university, or other public agency) would have a primary role in developing the State Early Detection Network. The Coordinator would work with the National Early Warning Coordinator and other State Early Detection Coordinators to arrange for state and regional herbaria to serve as repositories for voucher specimens (ideally, the State Early Detection Coordinator would be affiliated with at a cooperating herbarium). The State Early Detection Coordinator would interact with the scientific and professional communities as well as many other interested groups. In some cases, this person may be outside the state and function in a regional capacity with a multiple state responsibility (e.g., New England). Likewise, in some instances, in large states, local level coordinators (below the state level) may be needed. Such local coordinators would cooperate with the State Early Detection Coordinator. State Early Detection Coordinators would encourage interagency cooperation and participation by acting as a nexus for information. The state coordinator would have the ability to accept data from various groups such as schools, scouts, and etc., and would recognize/encourage their participation and contributions to the early detection effort.  Top

State Early Detection Network. Within each state, the proposed system would utilize existing survey networks whenever possible (heritage programs, county extension agents, native plant societies, weed science societies, rangers, herbaria etc.), but could improve their effectiveness for early detection through training, providing reference material, etc. Private land owners should also be extensively involved with the early detection effort. Since many land owners live on their land, they are often the first to notice a new invader that appears in a community. Therefore, landowners need to be encouraged to report new or suspected through the state early detection network. Property owners are much more likely to become willing participants and system advocates if their concerns about private property rights, owner notification, and access permission are taken into account. Another idea for improving early detection is to develop a volunteer cadre of certified parataxonomists within each state to assist the State Early Detection Coordinator in developing and operating the network. This will significantly increase the likelihood that new species will be detected and will further encourage public participation in the process.  Top

Cooperating Regional Herbaria. At the regional level, cooperating regional herbaria should work with their colleagues at the state level in developing state early detection networks in every state within the region. The regional herbaria would also serve as liaisons with the academic community, the Flora of North America project, professional taxonomists, and parataxonomists. They could also offer training and assist in identification and verification, as well as serve as conduits for providing information to national and international databases.  Top

Target Species. The proposed National Early Detection System should focus primarily on detection of new county, state, and national records of vascular and non-vascular plants in the United States. The documented flora of the U.S., as provided in the USDA NRCS Plants Database will serve as a baseline of information for determining whether a reported species is a newly introduced plant or native plant that is new to the area.  Top

Priority Areas for Survey and Early Detection. All modes of spread, including human, biotic, and abiotic pathways, are important in the short and long distance movement of plants. However, since invasive plants often have very high reproductive capacities, plant collectors should focus on sites where invasive plants are most likely to become established and spread. Some of these sites include natural areas such as floodplains, valuable areas with high biological diversity, and vulnerable areas (fragile ecosystems etc.); as well as disturbed areas, botanical gardens, and man made corridors such as highways, railroads, and powerline rights of ways. Disturbed areas, which are particularly important in producing large quantities of seed, often serve as reservoirs for further long distance spread by human activities.  Top

Survey and Detection Methods. In conducting their early detection programs, State Early Detection Coordinators should use both systematic (planned survey of target species or priority sites) and opportunistic surveys (botanists on vacation, trappers, fisherpeople, game wardens, etc.) depending on the costs, benefits, and availability of trained personnel in particular situations. Often, an opportunistic survey may trigger a systematic survey. Systematic ground based surveys include detection surveys (surveys of potential high risk sites), delimiting surveys (surveys to determine the extent of an infestation), and appraisal surveys (post-treatment surveys to determine the effectiveness of control efforts). Survey methods that have proven effective in past weed eradication programs include traditional walking surveys of a designated area, and riding surveys on four-wheeled ATVs, on horseback, or on truck or tractor mounted survey platforms. Canine survey (survey with trained dogs) is another type of survey that holds promise in this area. Remote sensing through aerial or satellite imagery includes an increasing range of technologies that help land managers to pinpoint new infestations that have not been previously detected through ground survey and operations.  Top

Collection Methods & Protocols. The main objective of the Early Detection System is to collect plant species that are new to a county, state, or the nation. In doing so, collectors should use standard plant collection and preparation methods. Voucher specimens should be collected for positive identification and as a permanent record. If the population is large, the collector should take enough plant materials for regional repositories, state herbaria, specialists, and network exchange. If just a few individuals are available, collection should be deferred until identification is certain to help avoid accidentally collecting rare species. Observational reports, photos, and digital images are also important, but often require on site follow-up.  Top

Submitting an Initial Field Occurrence Observation - (Level I Field Reporting). Once a suspected new plant has been observed and collected in the field, the population should be reported to proper authorities to ensure that all confirmed county, state, and national records are properly addressed. New species that go unreported cannot be addressed. The first step in the reporting process is to submit a voucher specimen from the observed population to the designated State Botanist for identification and processing. A primary goal of the National Early Warning System is to create a strong link between plant collectors, and taxonomists, and agencies that are in a position to address confirmed problems.

Because we expect observations by a wide variety of persons from professional botanists to backyard gardeners, the system must have minimal but flexible reporting requirements. However, a standard Field Reporting Form should be developed to ensure that appropriate information is gathered at the time of collection including:

Name of Taxon (if known)
Place of Observation, Including Latitude and Longitude, if Possible
Date of Observation/Collection
Observer's name, Address, Phone Number, Affiliation, Position, and Experience
Appropriate Voucher Specimen
Photograph of the Growing Plant, if Possible

Ultimately, standard protocols for plant collection and vouchering must be developed and made available both in hard and soft copies. Such information could be posted on the National Early Warning Website by the National Early Warning Coordinator.  Top

Processing an Occurrence Observation Report (Level II - Verification & Determination of Significance). To be effective, the National Early Detection Network must maintain high visibility and have clear reporting directions and continual feedback mechanisms. Although reports could enter the system at any point, from any source, they would be routed through a designated State Early Detection Coordinator for processing by a cooperating herbarium.

Once a cooperating herbarium receives a suspected new plant specimen, the staff would follow a standard procedure for handling new species until the report is determined to be insignificant (not a county, state, or national record). This is especially important in handling certain regulated species, parasitic plants, and other taxa with small seeds that pose a significant risk of being further spread.

Upon receipt, the specimen should be identified (utilizing distant taxonomic support if necessary), its significance determined (county, state, or national record?), permanent voucher specimens prepared and distributed to appropriate repositories, and proper authorities notified in coordination with the State Invasive Species Council. The collector should receive prompt feedback to acknowledge the report and actions to be taken. If requested, steps should be taken to ensure that the collector receives academic credit for the new record. Acknowledging the plant collector in all subsequent official reports should take care of this need. A program newsletter (electronic and hard copy) might solve this issue and serve a number of other needs and functions. Finally, confirmed new county, state, and national records should be entered into a distributive, web based information management system for invasive species, as a new addition to the baseline information on the flora of North America.  Top

Taxonomic Support. Since a primary objective of the national system is to detect new populations of introduced plants, the support of botanists throughout the country, and a network of participating herbaria is needed. In this regard, it will be important for the National Early Warning System to become associated with the Flora of North America project which maintains list of taxonomic specialists. The National Early Warning Coordinator should develop and maintain a list of knowledgeable plant taxonomists who may be network participants

To be effective, the early warning system will require broad participation from the taxonomic community to: support existing herbaria, produce current, affordable manuals and weed identification guides, conduct research on invasive species biology and systematics, train parataxonomists, maintain nomenclatural and distributional standards [including a uniform code for scientific names, i.e., through the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS)], maintain a controlled vocabulary, exchange specimens of highly invasive species so each regional network herbarium will have identification material available, support mentoring by training students as future invasive species field biologists (herbaria could offer student stipends as incentives for involvement), and to participate in invasive species symposia, courses, colloquia, etc.

Taxonomists could support the Early Warning System in other ways as well. Other possibilities include creation of an "Ask a Taxonomist" website, a toll free number for questions about new plants; development of a web based photo gallery of important invasive plants, as well as production and dissemination of electronic keys, polyclaves, and other identification aids.  Top

Information Sources for Identifying Potential Invaders. There are many sources to help identify new and emerging invasive species. Some of these include lists of regulated noxious weeds (county, state, federal), horticultural and seed trade catalogs and databases, websites that sell plants, The Germplasm Information Network (GRIN) (USDA, Agricultural Research Service), American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta (AABGA), aquarium trade databases and catalogs, land management agency publications, and international partners (e.g., New Zealand and Australia; and the web based Global Early Warning System  maintained by the Invasive Species Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union.        


Broad Information Sharing about New Invasive Plants. To engage appropriate stakeholders, information on confirmed new invaders must flow to and from various (and numerous!) repositories. Some of these repositories include:


Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Database, (USGS; Gainesville, FL)
Biodiversity Conservation Information System (BCIS)
Biota of North America Program (BONAP; UNC-Chapel Hill)
Botanical Gardens & Arboreta Database (BGBase)
Germplasm Information Network (GRIN; USDA Agricultural Research Service)
Invaders Plant Database (University of Montana)
Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS)
New England Invasive Plant Atlas (NEIPA)
Southwest Exotics Mapping Program, (SWEMP; USGS)
Taxonomic Resource Expertise Directory (TRED)
National Agricultural Pest Information System  (USDA APHIS)  Top


North American Biodiversity Information Network (NABIN; U-CA, Davis)
Inter-American Biodiversity Information Network (IABIN; U-CA, Davis)


American Biodiversity Information Association (ABIA)
Global Invasive Species Programme, (GISP)
Hawaiian Ecosystems at Risk Program  
The Nature Conservancy (TNC)
Plant Conservation Alliance (National Park Service)
American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA)
Scientific Societies:
Weed Science Society of America    
North American Weed Management Association
Ecological Society of America  
Botanical Society of America


- County Weed Programs
- State Agencies; State Heritage Programs; State Biological and Natural History Surveys
- Federal Agencies  


WWW Listserves:

- Aliens-Listserve (Invasive Species Specialist Group, World Conservation Union)
- EnviroWeeds Listserve (Australia) Top



Appoint a National Early Warning System Coordinator. Developing an effective National Early Warning and Rapid Response System for Invasive Plants will require a fulltime, energetic coordinator to bring together the various groups needed to make this concept a reality.
Designate a State Early Detection Coordinator in each participating state.
Develop standards for early detection and protocols for reporting.
Establish a pilot Early Detection Program in a few key states.
Establish a network of cooperating regional herbaria to assist in development of state early detection networks and to serve a conduit for information into regional and national databases..
Establish a distributed web-based information network for invasive plants. It is critical to establish a one stop shopping gateway for access to all of the websites that contain information about invasive plants.
Promote early detection and reporting. Public understanding of the need for prevention through early detection and rapid response is critical.
Develop methods for quality assurance and quality control for all aspects of the system and the data entered into it.
The system should use existing infrastructures at all levels where possible (e.g., county agents, heritage network, native plant societies, weeds science societies, rangers, herbaria).