Meeting the challenge of quantitative risk assessment for genetic control techniques: a framework and some methods applied to the common Carp (Cyprinus carpio) in Australia
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- Hayes, K.R., Leung, B., Thresher, R. et al. Biol Invasions (2014) 16: 1273. doi:10.1007/s10530-012-0392-9
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In Australia the European carp is widespread, environmentally damaging and difficult to control. Genetic control options are being developed for this species but risk-assessment studies to support these options have been limited. The key science challenge in this context is our limited understanding of complex and highly variable ecosystems. Hierarchical models are one way to approach this complexity and heterogeneity. These models treat the factors that determine risk as a joint probability distribution that can be factored into a series of simpler conditional distributions to allow Bayesian inference following observed outcomes. Designing a risk assessment around this approach, however, requires that the assessment endpoints (such as impacts on native species) are measurable, and that monitoring strategies are carefully designed and implemented in order that risk predictions are compared to outcomes. We therefore suggest that an evidence-based framework, supported by careful hazard analysis and quantitative risk assessment, and implemented within a stage-released protocol, is the safest way to move beyond the current emphasis on contained laboratory studies and qualitative risk assessments. We highlight impediments to this approach, and use the non-target impacts of daughterless carp in Australian billabongs as a case study to illustrate three methodological tools that not only provide solutions to some of these impediments but also encourage stakeholder participation in the risk assessment process.