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Conundrums of a complex vector for invasive species control: a detailed examination of the horticultural industry


Historically the horticultural industry has transformed the US landscape through intentional cultivar introductions and unintentional introductions of weeds, insects and plant diseases. While it has been demonstrated that the horticultural industry, in particular the ornamental subsector, is an important vector for the introduction and dispersal of invasive species, known invasive plants continue to be sold while new cultivars are introduced at an ever increasing rate. This study examines the horticultural trade as a vector for invasive species, its agents, and characterizes the complexity of the distribution channel. Numerous factors have contributed to the recent expansion in marketed cultivars, including technological, industry growth, and marketing developments. The result has been an increased and sophisticated consumer demand with a corresponding aggressive scouring of the planet for new crops, many of which are introduced into the market without sufficient testing for invasive tendencies. Traditional approaches to invasive horticultural crop control (regulation, self-regulation), which target players in the distribution channel before and/or after cultivar release, have had limited effectiveness and buy-in because these approaches do not address the industry’s complexities and economic incentives. Involvement and education of consumers may provide better oversight outcomes by addressing the moral hazard problem while acknowledging the key characteristics of the industry.