Improved understanding of Xylella among government and industry participants
Participants rated their level of understanding of the pest and its potential effects at the beginning of the workshop and again at the end. The proportion of participants who rated their knowledge as good or high rose from 53 to 75 per cent as a result of the day’s activities.
The forum began with an address from the acting Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer and an overview of activities the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is currently undertaking with respect to Xylella, a briefing on the current distribution of Xylella, the host range and impact, and the potential problems that the pest could cause for Australian plant production industries and environment if it were to be detected in Australia. An update from the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) Xylella workshop, held in Italy in April 2016, was also provided.
The workshop highlighted the emerging issue in southern Italy, where a strain of Xylella is causing quick decline in olive. Complete tree and orchard death is being observed in the Puglia region, and this has caused important flow-on effects to communities given the economic and cultural significance of olives to the region.
Assessment of current preparedness for Xylella
Participants were asked to consider current preparedness activities for Xylella and its vectors, and other preparedness and risk mitigation activities currently undertaken that could be expanded to cover the pest. The following key areas were identified:
Diagnostics capacity and capability – Experience from other countries has shown that Xylella is a complex pathogen with a wide host range and a large number of vectors. There is a need to improve Australia’s capacity to test to the sub-species level and ensure tests are effective for Australian hosts, consider ‘surge’ capacity to test large numbers of samples that may be experienced in the event of an incursion, develop rapid field tests and ensure diagnostic tests are available for the vectors of Xylella.
Communication and awareness – Improving awareness of the significance and impact of Xylella amongst plant industries should be undertaken through development of support material such as websites, fact sheets and industry newsletters. Consideration could also be given to improving awareness in other groups such as travellers, environmental groups, researchers and government staff. Coordination of material would be useful to ensure consistent messaging is being delivered.
Planning and preparedness – Activities such as development of a cross-industry pest contingency plan, delivery of a simulation exercise, development of a regional containment plan, ensuring that all affected industries are signed to the EPPRD, and ensuring Xylella is included within biosecurity plans for potentially affected industries will assist in Australia’s preparedness for Xylella.
Research, development and extension – Nationally coordinated R&D was identified for the vectors (including native insect species), hosts (including Australian native species), asymptomatic hosts, potential economic impact, resistant cultivars, strain specific host ranges and pathway analyses.
Surveillance – To confirm Australia’s status for Xylella, and to improve our likelihood of early detection of Xylella should it enter Australia, improved surveillance for the pathogen and its vectors is required. This should include:
- At the border – surveying potential hosts for the presence of potential vectors in the vicinity of high risk points of entry, including quarantine approved premises;
- Post-border – specific surveys targeting potential hosts. Surveillance programmes including specific surveys for the pathogen in high risk hosts. General surveillance programs that increase awareness of Xylella symptoms and reporting mechanisms for industry and communities.
Control and eradication — Preparedness activities that provide information for control of the vector and the pathogen are required. These could include review of pesticides and preparation of emergency permits for vectors, and improved knowledge of potential eradication strategies and distances of buffer and quarantine zones. Preparedness information is also required on management options in the event that Xylella is not technically feasible to eradicate. This could include strategies that slow the spread or minimise the impact of Xylella, by identifying management priorities and potential movement control requirements.
Priorities for future Xylella biosecurity preparedness activities
The workshop considered a range of preparedness activities based on potential impact and ease of implementation. Key areas that were determined to be of highest priority and would result in the highest impact were as follows:
Development of awareness material suitable for multiple audiences was identified as a high priority that would achieve considerable impact. Types of audiences included government staff, R&D providers, industry and growers, the public and biosecurity inspectors.
Information should be provided on the impact of Xylella, what to look for and how to report suspected samples. Training within industry and government in identification, surveillance and reporting was also seen as part of awareness activities.
Incursion simulation exercise
Given the large number of industries and jurisdictions that could be involved in the event of a detection of Xylella in Australia, a simulation exercise that assisted with preparedness for a response was seen as a high priority. A simulation exercise should involve industry and government and will assist with improving capacity and capability, planning and coordination and identifying any gaps in preparedness.
Host and vector identification
Improved knowledge and understanding of Xylella and its vectors is required. A review of potential vectors (endemic and exotic species) anticipated to be of most importance under Australian conditions was identified as a high priority, as well as monitoring any changes in pest status of both the pathogen and vectors in affected countries. A review of plant species (including Australian) known to be hosts/infected from affected countries was also identified as important.
Surveillance and diagnostic capacity
There is a need to undertake assessment of current diagnostic capacity & capability as well as surge capacity requirements should large numbers of samples need to be processed. A review of the current national diagnostic protocol to address any issues with diagnostics in a range of hosts is required.
A nationally coordinated surveillance strategy and protocol for Xylella is needed to confirm and support Australia’s plant health status, including whether surveillance should focus on early warning or proof of freedom, and to improve Australia’s capacity for early detection of Xylella.
As part of preparedness activities, improved knowledge is needed to gain a better understanding of regional containment requirements should an incursion of Xylella be deemed not technically feasible to eradicate. Planning is needed on measures that may be required such as the size of a host free buffer zone, control options, surveillance requirements, determination of the potential role of asymptomatic hosts and risk pathways for spread within Australia.
These outcomes will be considered by governments and industry in the context of future preparedness investment, with some activities to address these priorities already in progress.