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Biosecurity and Systematics
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Background Documents: Major Issues

Accidental introductions of exotic organisms, primarily due to trade between countries, pose an ever-present and ever-increasing threat to US agriculture. Next to habitat destruction, alien invaders are the main cause for the loss of species nationwide. Their destructive effects on agricultural crop production are often severe. Economic costs, which include loss of production as well as the cost of control measures, reach into the billions of dollars each year in the United States for those pests that are accidentally introduced.

Now agricultural security in the US faces an even more ominous threat: the deliberate introduction of exotic organisms targeted to crops, or to the food production and delivery systems, which provide Americans with a safe, healthy, and affordable food supply.

Both of these scenarios require constant vigilance to prevent the entry of such organisms, whether plant, insect or microbe, as a first line of defense. If entry does occur, second and third lines of defense involve rapid responses to contain and/or eliminate the invaders. Each of these lines of defense depends, without question, on the ability of systematists to precisely and rapidly identify the invader and provide clues to possible control or containment measures. The systematics programs at BARC now act as a major first line of defense against inadvertent introduction of plant pathogens and pests (including nematodes, fungi, insects, invasive plants, animal parasites and disease vectors), through the nation's ports in collaboration with APHIS. The rapid identification service (24 hour turnaround) is based on extensive systematics expertise, information and collections, unmatched anywhere else in the world. BARC is increasingly recognized globally as a critical repository of the growing body of systematics information needed to defend against alien invaders through accurate identifications.

Biosecurity is dependent on preventing exotic organisms from entering the US whether accidentally or intentionally. Rapid responses are essential, once they have entered, to control them, mitigate the damage or eradicate them. The ability to respond depends on the base of experience and knowledge that resides in strong and continuous systematics programs such as the ones at BARC. Loss of that experience and knowledge, through lack of resources or lack of interest, will itself threaten biosecurity of American agriculture in the future.