Variability in commercial demand for tree saplings affects the probability of introducing exotic forest diseases.
Several devastating forest pathogens are suspected or known to have entered the UK through imported planting material. The nursery industry is a key business of the tree trade network. Variability in demand for trees makes it difficult for nursery owners to predict how many trees to produce in their nursery. When in any given year, the demand for trees is larger than the production, nursery owners buy trees from foreign sources to match market demand. These imports may introduce exotic diseases. We have developed a model of the dynamics of plant production linked to an economic model. We have used this to quantify the effect of demand variability on the risk of introducing an exotic disease. We find that: (a) When the cost of producing a tree in a UK nursery is considerably smaller than the cost of importing a tree (in the example presented, less than half the importing cost), the risk of introducing an exotic disease is hardly affected by an increase in demand variability. (b) When the cost of producing a tree in the nursery is smaller than, but not very different from the cost of importing a tree, the risk of importing exotic diseases increases with increasing demand variability. Synthesis and applications. Our model and results demonstrate how a balanced management of demand variability and costs can reduce the risk of importing an exotic forest disease according to the management strategy adopted. For example, a management strategy that can reduce the demand variability, the ratio of production to import cost or both, optimizes the nursery gross margin when mainly own-produced trees are commercialized. This can also translate into a reduction of the risk of introducing exotic forest diseases due to the small number of imported trees for sale.