Campus Units

Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Horticulture, Statistics, Natural Resource Ecology and Management

Document Type


Publication Version

Published Version

Publication Date


Journal or Book Title

Journal of Environmental Horticulture





First Page


Last Page



The selection, introduction, and cultivation of non-native woody plants beyond their native ranges can have great benefits, but also unintended consequences. Among these consequences is the tendency for some species to naturalize and become invasive pests in new environments to which they were introduced. In lieu of lengthy and costly field trials, risk-assessment models can be used to predict the likelihood of naturalization. We compared the relative performance of five established risk-assessment models on species datasets from two previously untested areas: southern Minnesota and northern Missouri. Model classification rates ranged from 64.2 to 90.5%, biologically significant errors ranged from 4.4 to 9.3%, and horticulturally limiting errors ranged from 6.6 to 30.4%. For the random forest model, we investigated the importance of variables used to predict naturalization by examining datasets for five distinct study areas across the Upper Midwest. Geographic-risk ratios were the most important predictors of species' tendency to naturalize. Other factors, such as quick maturity, record of invading elsewhere, and production of fleshy, bird-dispersed fruit were also important in the random forest models. Although some models tested need additional refinement, the random forest models maintain robustness and provide additional information on plant-specific characteristics that contribute to naturalization.


This article is published as Widrlechner, Mark P., Emily J. Kapler, Philip M. Dixon, and Janette R. Thompson. "The importance of geographic and biological variables in predicting the naturalization of non-native woody plants in the Upper Midwest." Journal of Environmental Horticulture 31, no. 2 (2013): 124-131. Posted with permission.

Copyright Owner

Horticultural Research Institute



File Format