A Grand Challenge Agenda for Entomology

The Path Forward on Invasive Arthropods: Collaboration, Innovation, and More

(This article is reprinted with permission from EntomologyToday, where it was first published on January 30, 2019)

Grand Challenges Vancouver summit panel

At the Grand Challenge Agenda for Entomology summit, “Addressing the North American and Pacific Rim Invasive Insect and Arthropod Species Challenge,” November 9-10, 2018, in Vancouver, 150 attendees discussed challenges and solutions to invasive arthropod alien species and identified broad themes for future action. (Photo credit: Entomological Society of America)

By Tracy Hueppelsheuser, Sandy M. Smith, Helen Spafford, and Frank G. Zalom

Invasive Arthropod Alien Species (IAAS) are a known threat to our quality of life. They outcompete native species, help spread disease, and transform ecosystems. They travel over and through borders, mostly as undetected hitch-hikers in trade and human movement. As global traffic and trade continues to increase, the problem will only get worse.

With funding challenges, workforce shortages, and the sheer scale of the problem as obstacles, every developed nation on Earth is struggling to find ways to address the challenge of IAAS. Within each country, federal agencies that manage invasive species do great work, but the scale of the problem exceeds the capacity for any one agency acting alone. Truly successful solutions will only emerge when the global community not only recognizes the challenge for what it is, but works together to develop these solutions.

As a step in developing an international coalition to address this challenge, in November 2018, a summit, titled “Addressing the North American and Pacific Rim Invasive Insect and Arthropod Species Challenge,” was convened in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada by the Entomological Society of America (ESA), the Entomological Society of Canada, and the Entomological Society of British Columbia. Leading researchers, government authorities, and influential stakeholders met to develop a deeper understanding of the challenge and the threats of IAAS. While most of the 150 attendees were from the U.S. and Canada, other nations were also represented, such as Finland, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and more.

Over the course of the two-day summit, key action items were identified along several themes (listed here and also summarized in an infographic, embedded at the bottom of this post):

International collaboration. The problem is global, therefore the solutions must be global as well. Summit participants tended to agree that more international cooperation was needed. Whether that comes in the form of new treaties and partnerships, better enforcement of existing treaties and partnerships, or something else remains to be seen. Clearly more work needs to be done in this area. If found to be feasible, one approach may be to seek the formation of a global coalition on the topic of IAAS.

Capacity. A large and active seaport such as Vancouver’s can process more than 3.6 million containers a year. More than 10,000 containers may move through the port in a single day. Inspection is only practically and economically feasible for a small percentage of these shipments. While data-driven methods for prioritizing shipment inspections based on statistical risk are improving success rates, vastly increasing the budget for inspections may have only a marginal impact on the entry of new species. Furthermore, container shipping is only one pathway for introduction. The international capacity and cooperation for pre-border, border, and post-border inspection and response must be expanded and improved.

Innovation. We need new technologies and approaches for risk assessment, pre-border and border detection, post-border monitoring, eradication (when feasible), and management of established pests. Existing technologies, meanwhile, can be used more effectively. The invention-to-implementation pipeline for IAAS needs to be diversified, strengthened, and ensured. These new tools should not only address capacity issues but also improve sustainability of our prevention and management approaches.

Funding. A sustained and consistent stream of funding is essential to address the innovation needs to combat the threat of IAAS. Competition for scarce federal and other government funds is a challenge for most nations, forcing agencies that manage IAAS to compete with other high-profile national and international challenges. Government funds are used to develop badly needed and innovative technologies for detection, response, and management as well as to train and employ those who carry out this essential work.

As the nations of the world grapple with other high-profile and important priorities, it is equally clear that, while continued federal and other government funding needs to be a priority, it cannot be the sole solution to the IAAS challenge. The traditional grants-based funding model has worked well for many decades, but new, faster, interactive, and flexible approaches that can address smaller “proof of concept” types of research needs are being tested and implemented. One such program was announced during the summit in the form of an invasive species grant challenge, co-hosted by ESA and Experiment.com, to address the issues identified during the summit. Novel funding partnerships such as this should be explored, nurtured, and developed as complementary revenue streams to more traditional government funding.

Broadening the base. Engaging the public in seeking solutions is a critical component to ensure government agencies are working optimally. To that effect, programs that engage citizen scientists, youth, and other communities of the public in invasive species prevention, detection, and management should be supported. Several such programs exist today. Work needs to be done to determine which approaches for community engagement are most effective. Program unification may amplify the message and connections.

This summit was a step toward building an international coalition to tackle invasive arthropod alien species. Other non-governmental organizations exist today that address non-arthropod invasive issues, but no international coalition currently exists with the focused mission of addressing invasive arthropods. The time is now for the global community of entomologists to band together and help address this challenge.

Addressing the Invasive Species Challenge


And now the hard part …

Last month we hosted a summit in Vancouver, BC Canada on invasive arthropod species. Maybe you heard about it.  The idea was to get some really smart people who care about finding solutions to the invasive species challenge together to talk about where we are now in terms of management issues and where we, as a global society, need to be. Plus we wanted to develop a compelling narrative that we could use to develop talking points as a way to get others (including, and perhaps most especially, lawmakers) engaged on seeking solutions. It was perhaps a little audacious in that we tried to do a lot in a very short amount of time – just 12 hours of programming. This post’s intent is to sum up a bit of what the summit meant to accomplish and who was there to help do it.

But right off the bat I wanted to make sure that you heard about the challenge grant funding opportunity (for those of you who only read the first two paragraphs of any article). There were a number of research gaps discussed at the summit. ESA is partnering with a company called Experiment to launch a crowd-funding opportunity to help fund small research projects.

ESA will kick in an extra $1,500 to support the leading projects. If you have an invasive species research idea, click here to learn more about this challenge grant.


Who came? 

The summit, which was funded by the Entomological Society of America (with offsetting sponsorship funds from Corteva, Syngenta, and Bayer), was invitation-only. The initial invitation list included leaders of international professional entomological societies and other, related societies. It included government and academic leaders from across North America, from agencies like CFIA, USDA, CFS, and the CDC. We also asked all of our invited guests to help us crowd-source the registration list since we cannot possible know everyone that should be invited. Our guiding principle was to get the right people in the room. We know that some who should have been there were not, either through an inability to travel or because they simply did not hear about it in advance. In the end, approximately 150 people attended, nearly 1/3 of them from academia with the rest primarily coming from Canadian and U.S. agencies like USDA-Forest Service, USDA-APHIS, USDA-ARS, Natural Resources Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Provincial and State officials, and corporate interests.

What happened?

The program included round table discussions, plenary talks, breakout sessions on communication strategies, posters, and panels. A draft framework of an outcome statement was prepared in advance and attendees were encouraged to help draft it throughout and in the weeks following the summit. A brief write-up appeared in EntomologyToday shortly after the summit concluded. The two primary tangible outcomes were intended to be communication tactics and a white paper. Both remain works in progress. The white paper should be released sometime in early 2019. The narrative will forever remain a work in progress with refinements being added as the need changes. As a starting point, we used the ABT model developed by scientist-turned-filmmaker Dr. Randy Olson, who was the summit’s closing plenary speaker.

In brief, the model suggests that any issue can be turned into a compelling narrative by framing it through the use of the words “and”, “but”, and “therefore”. The breakout sessions tried to do that. Each was assigned a piece of the invasives challenge and asked to create an ABT to discuss it. These are short, encompassing statements that pique the interest. They are not finished products; they are starting points for the work to come.

The structure of the breakouts was something new. We developed a process whereby each room was in contact with Randy via GoogleDocs as they accomplished their task. It was, admittedly, a little chaotic (but what innovation isn’t the first time?).  Breakout-computer

  • Prevention — Globalization brings invasive pests that cause ecological, health, and economic damage, and once those pests have arrived in an area they may be costly to control, but pests continue to invade, therefore we need to implement evidence-based policies to keep pests out of trade and develop novel communication and education initiatives.
  • Detection — Early detection of invasive species is critical for effective and rapid response, and is essential to prevent economic and ecological impact. But our capacity to detect and accurately identify these organisms early is inadequate. Therefore we need improved tools and enhances taxonomic expertise.
  • Response — Invasive species are a threat to our way of life and global economy but there is little awareness of the risks they pose therefore we must communicate the need for collaborative response efforts to all affected parties.
  • Policy — Trans-boundary movement of arthropods can negatively impact food security, animal and human health, infrastructure, as well as natural environments, and trade agreements and policy exist to mitigate these risks. But these policies don’t always fulfill their mandate. Therefore evidence based, flexible responsive agreements need to be formulated with all stakeholders in compliance.

The actual white paper will be more involved and reinforces points that have been addressed by others – we are doing well but more needs to be done. Collaboration and coordination will be key parts to solutions. Some other parts of the solution include ideas regarding

  • improving pre-border exclusion management techniques,
  • reviewing surveillance programs to ensure that we are working at maximum efficiency,
  • analyzing existing trade agreements and national laws
  • improving pathways analysis
  • developing improved tools and strategies for rapid response
  • doing more to inspect cargo pre-border
  • building the capacity
  • engaging the public

And now we move on to the hard part; doing it.

After months of preparation plus the day and a half spent at the summit, we’re moving on to developing the outcome report. It should be “finished” in early 2019, but it would be a mistake to think of this as “the” finished product. From the beginning we’ve wanted this to be an iterative process, building on the successes of previous events and moving on toward something greater.


Think of the framework of a house that is under construction. It starts out as just a jumble of boards and ladders, but at some point it really starts to look like a house. But it isn’t yet. That’s where we are now.

We want your feedback to help on this next stage. On the home page of the Grand Challenges website you can enter your email and subscribe to our site. We encourage you to do so and we’ll be sure to send you an update once the report is finished.


Monsanto and Syngenta Sponsor the 2018 Vancouver Summit

On June 1, 2018, both Syngenta and Monsanto agreed to become sponsors of the 2018 Grand Challenges Summit: Addressing the North American and Pacific Rim Invasive Insect and Arthropod Species Challenge. The summit, which will be held in Vancouver, BC, Canada immediately prior to the Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Societies of America, Canada, and British Columbia. These two sponsors will join Corteva Agriscience™, Agriculture Division of DowDuPont™ as the three sponsors for this summit.

A major outcome goal for the summit is to help define the agenda for invasive arthropod species management in the coming decades. At this time all sponsorship opportunities have been reserved for the summit. Any corporations interested in supporting future events may contact Chris Stelzig at cstelzig@entsoc.org.