Quantifying uncertainty in predictions of invasiveness, with emphasis on weed risk assessment
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Using the Australian Weed Risk Assessment (WRA) model as an example, we applied a combination of bootstrapping and Bayesian techniques as a means of explicitly estimating the posterior probability of weediness as a function of an import risk assessment model screening score. Our approach provides estimates of uncertainty around model predictions, after correcting for verification bias arising from the original training dataset having a higher proportion of weed species than would be the norm, and incorporates uncertainty in current knowledge of the prior (base-rate) probability of weediness. The results confirm the high sensitivity of the posterior probability of weediness to the base-rate probability of weediness of plants proposed for importation, and demonstrate how uncertainty in this base-rate probability manifests itself in uncertainty surrounding predicted probabilities of weediness. This quantitative estimate of the weediness probability posed by taxa classified using the WRA model, including estimates of uncertainty around this probability for a given WRA score, would enable bio-economic modelling to contribute to the decision process, should this avenue be pursued. Regardless of whether or not this avenue is explored, the explicit estimates of uncertainty around weed classifications will enable managers to make better informed decisions regarding risk. When viewed in terms of likelihood of weed introduction, the current WRA model outcomes of ‘accept’, ‘further evaluate’ or ‘reject’, whilst not always accurate in terms of weed classification, appear consistent with a high-expected cost of mistakenly introducing a weed. The methods presented have wider application to the quantitative prediction of invasive species for situations where the base-rate probability of invasiveness is subject to uncertainty, and the accuracy of the screening test imperfect.
KeywordsBayesian bootstrapping decision support invasion prediction modelling uncertainty risk assessment
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