Applying fault tree analysis to biological invasions identifies optimal targets for effective biosecurity.
The management of invasive species requires analytical tools that can synthesise the increasing and complex information generated through risk assessment protocols. To that end, fault tree analysis (FTA) provides a means to conceptually map all of the events leading to a particular undesired scenario with associated probabilities and uncertainty. We used a peer-reviewed dataset (the GB Non-Native Species Risk Assessments) to build and quantify a FT of all the events leading to the transport, introduction, establishment and spread of harmful aquatic invasive species in Great Britain. We also simulated management scenarios. Individual barriers to invasion, either natural or human, were largely unsuccessful in hindering invasion (42%-91% probability of failure in a 5-year period); yet the high interdependence of events in the tree resulted in an overall probability of harmful invasion of about 3%. This figure is much greater than that estimated by the tens rule, which posits that 10% of non-native species manage to colonise a new area, and only 10% of those become invasive, resulting in a 1% overall probability of harmful invasion. We used the FTA to explore different management intervention scenarios and found that pre-border management reduced the overall risk of invasion by 86%, followed in importance by early action after introduction (85%), and detection at the border (81%). In contrast, post-establishment management techniques, such as eradication and containment, had a limited impact reducing the probability of widespread invasion (18%-24%). Synthesis and applications. While prevention has been long recognised as the most cost-effective action against biological invasions, here we were able to quantify the reduction in invasion risk under a range of management scenarios. Optimising all management elements included in the FT reduced the overall probability of invasion by three orders of magnitude. We conclude that FTA provides a baseline to capitalise on a growing source of peer-reviewed risk assessments, which allows systematic assessment of the effectiveness of future actions to prevent and manage invasive species at the national and international levels. The analytical framework can be extended to other biological threats (e.g. pests, pathogens, diseases) and scenarios (e.g. climate change, war), so that breach and leverage points in biosecurity can be identified.