Plant pest surveillance in botanic gardens

At the end of October, Plant Health Australia’s Executive Director and CEO, Greg Fraser, and other staff spent two days in Melbourne facilitating a workshop for a project to develop a plant pest surveillance network in Australia’s botanic gardens and arboreta.

Head of Seed Conservation and Plant Health at Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), Katherine O’Donnell, visited from the UK to speak at the workshop. Following the workshop in Melbourne, Katherine visited Canberra to see the National Arboretum and the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

While in Canberra she visited the PHA offices and spoke to staff about her work at BGCI and with the International Plant Sentinel Network (IPSN).

The network links botanic gardens and arboreta, plant protection organisations, and plant health scientists around the world to provide an early warning system of new and emerging pest and pathogen risks.

It is estimated that the approximately 3000 botanic gardens worldwide house 30-40% of known plant species providing significant opportunities for plant pest surveillance.

Botanic gardens have non-native species in their collections that can act as sentinel plants, showing how the species is impacted by pests that may not be present in the plant’s native country or area.

For example, PHA’s connections with the network have already proven useful in determining risks to Melaleuca alternifolia, the species of tea tree that’s grown commercially in Australia to produce oil.

During the development of the tea tree industry biosecurity plan, advice was sought from the IPSN via Katherine on any information about the susceptibility of plants growing in botanic gardens and arboreta overseas that might help guide the pest prioritisation process undertaken in the development of the plan.

Tea tree is also susceptible to myrtle rust, which is now in Australia, but should more virulent strains of the disease be found on plants overseas, we could be notified, and appropriate measures be taken.

In her presentation she also shared insights on the role that botanic gardens can play in biosecurity and the early detection of exotic pests.

“Botanic gardens don’t generally focus on plant health or have diagnosticians, but they do have experienced staff with a wealth of knowledge,” explained Katherine.

“Staff know when a plant doesn’t look healthy,” she said.

Katherine emphasised that when assessing initiatives that they need to investigate “what it is that botanic gardens can really do, as some of them have quite limited resources.”

One recent initiative was a citizen science project referred to as the #Spittlebug Hunt, which used the Twitter tag to receive tweets that eventually identified 86 plants that may be at risk from Xylella.

The spittlebug larvae deposit characteristic ‘cuckoo spit’ when feeding, which is easier to identify than a Xylella infected plant, so they used the spittlebug which is a vector of Xylella to identify possible at-risk plants.

By using social media to engage people, they were able to answer important questions about the potential impact of Xylella on species growing in the botanic gardens.

Meetings on forestry biosecurity

There were three events related to forest biosecurity in August and September 2018. They were:

  • Environment and Invasives Committee, Perth on 15 August 2018
  • Forest Health and Biosecurity R&D Workshop, Melbourne on 29-30 August 2018
  • Biosecurity for Healthy Forests Session, Canberra on 5 September.

Forest biosecurity considered by Environment and Invasives Committee

A workshop was held in Perth on 15 August 2018 to engage with the environmental biosecurity policy leaders that form part of the Environment and Invasives Committee.

The workshop aimed to:

  • outline the benefits to the environment of the National Forest Biosecurity Surveillance Strategy and Implementation Plan
  • generate discussion on how environment stakeholders may engage with forest biosecurity activities
  • determine mechanisms for collaboration between environmental biosecurity stakeholders and forest biosecurity groups.

Forest Health and Biosecurity R&D Workshop

Building on previous work done to develop the National Forest Biosecurity Surveillance Strategy and Implementation Plan, a two-day workshop was held in Melbourne on 29-30 August 2018. The workshop was a gathering of forest health and biosecurity technical expertise and stakeholders from across Australia, who discussed key R&D activities and investment necessary to protect the economic, environmental and amenity values of Australia’s forests.

Biosecurity for Healthy Forests Session

On 5 September in Canberra there was a session at the joint conference of the Institute of Foresters of Australia and Australian Forest Growers to highlight the importance and benefits of biosecurity to protect the environmental, amenity and economic values of Australia’s forests. Leading forest health and biosecurity experts covered topics including:

  • the exotic pest risks that threaten Australia’s forests
  • economic benefits of undertaking biosecurity and forest health activities
  • an explanation of methods used to improve detection and response to exotic forest pests
  • Australia’s strategic plan to implement a forest biosecurity surveillance program.

For more information about forest surveillance activities, contact Paco Tovar at ftovar@phau.com.au

National forest biosecurity stakeholder group formed

The National Forest Biosecurity Surveillance Group (NFBSG) met for the first time in Sydney on 1 August. The group is made up key stakeholders in Australia’s forests including representatives from federal and state government agencies, Plant Health Australia and the environment and community sectors.

The group has been formed to support and guide the activities outlined in the National Forest Biosecurity Surveillance Strategy and Implementation Plan with the aim of establishing a forest biosecurity surveillance program nationally.

Working with the National Forest Biosecurity Surveillance Coordinator stakeholder representatives discussed:

  • the scope of forest biosecurity surveillance
  • the challenges of identifying and engaging with all forest stakeholders
  • possible governance and funding agreements
  • possible in-kind stakeholder collaborations

For more information, please email the Forest Biosecurity Coordinator, Paco Tovar.

Giant pine scale management in Victoria

Giant pine scale was first confirmed in Victoria in 2014 and poses a significant risk to Australia’s softwood plantation industry, parks, forests, and residential properties if not properly managed.

This small scale insect sucks the sap of pine, fir and spruce trees, sometimes killing the tree.

Agriculture Victoria concluded its Giant Pine Scale Transition to Management Program on 7 May 2018. The management of giant pine scale now rests with land managers, land owners and industry.

As there are currently no effective control methods available, minimising further spread is critical.

Two resources have been developed to help people living in affected areas in Victoria to manage the pest and prevent its further spread.

New Biosecurity Online Training course

A new eLearning course – Managing giant pine scale in Victoria – is now available on the PHA BOLT site. This course was developed by Agriculture Victoria as part of the National Giant Pine Scale Transition to Management Program and covers:

  • what giant pine scale is, its impacts and how to recognise the signs of an infestation
  • where giant pine scale is currently located in Victoria
  • how to report new infestations
  • how to implement simple hygiene practices to reduce the risk of spreading giant pine scale.

To access the course, you will need to register on the PHA BOLT site and then enrol in the Managing Giant Pine Scale in Victoria course.

More details about all PHA BOLT courses is available on the Plant Health Australia Biosecurity Online Training page.

Video on working with giant pine scale infested trees

A video for people who have, or work with, giant pine scale infested trees in Victoria is now available.

The video at www.vic.gov.au/giantpinescale (under ‘Information resources on giant pine scale’) shares easy gardening and equipment hygiene tips to help arborists and property owners to avoid spreading giant pine scale to new properties.

Industry-led research projects are still progressing to find possible control options for giant pine scale.

More information about the giant pine scale is available on the Agriculture Victoria website.

National Fruit Fly Symposium helps set direction

The quest to better manage fruit flies in Australia was the focus of a National Fruit Fly Symposium in Melbourne on 14-15 August 2018.

Around 90 people attended the symposium representing Australia’s horticultural industries, researchers, pest control advisers and government agencies.

Attendees considered current progress and future priorities for managing fruit flies, with a view to reviewing the National Fruit Fly Strategy to ensure it will meet industry needs and help guide Australia.

The Mediterranean fruit fly and Queensland fruit fly jointly threaten a substantial portion of Australia’s $9 billion horticulture sector. These two species attack and damage crops such as peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, citrus, apples, pears, loquats, berries, grapes, olives, persimmons, tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant and mangoes.

Fruit fly outbreaks in areas that are normally free of these pests can cause millions of dollars a year in lost income and eradication costs. The impost of interstate and international quarantine conditions either limits market access opportunities or makes it more expensive.

Effectively managing this threat involves a cooperative approach between industries, governments and local residents. These efforts are supported by an extensive research program undertaken by universities, state governments, the CSIRO, commercial parties and industry groups.

At the National Fruit Fly Symposium updates were presented on:

  • current fruit fly research, development, management and extension activities to help identify gaps and priorities
  • future opportunities and market access aspirations for Australian horticulture and how these can guide fruit fly management
  • recent activities to improve community engagement in fruit fly control and to get better extension of R&D outcomes
  • the priority areas for future investment and effort, including research, market access, pest management and policy.

The National Fruit Fly Council manager, Darryl Barbour, said the key things that came out of the symposium were:

  • confidence expressed in the range of tools to manage fruit flies
  • support for ongoing efforts to protect Australia from exotic fruit flies such as the oriental fruit fly
  • encouragement to continue improving control options, while ensuring that the efforts are applied on-the-ground
  • highlighting the importance of Australia’s favorable pest status and minimising the spread and impact of fruit flies across the country
  • the opportunity to improve management on the ground through better communication about tools, better evidence about approaches working in different regions and better community engagement.

Feedback from participants will become an input into a review of the National Fruit Fly Strategy.

Presentations from the symposium will be available on the web in the near future.

Exercise Bee Prepared

Australian governments and the beekeeping industry are improving their readiness to respond to a detection of varroa mite (Varroa destructor) by taking part in Exercise Bee Prepared.

In this exercise program, PHA facilitates the delivery of workshops across the country, testing how to rapidly respond to a detection of this serious pest of honey bees.

Each state and territory government have, or will, host an Exercise Bee Prepared activity, in which departmental staff and beekeepers work together on a fictional scenario and develop a response strategy to cover the days immediately following a detection of varroa mite.

The response strategy developed during the exercise activities will be beneficial in the event of a real incursion, so helping Australia to ‘Bee Prepared’.

Working through the process acts to highlight ways in which to improve how Australia responds to exotic pest detections.

Since March 2018, Exercise Bee Prepared activities have been held in Victoria, Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia,Tasmania and Western Australia, with an activity in the Northern Territory and for the Commonwealth to be delivered before the end of October 2018.

To wrap-up the exercise, a national meeting will assess what’s been learned and agree on a national approach.

If you’d like more information about Exercise Bee Prepared, please contact Stephen Dibley, Program Manager for Training and Biosecurity Preparedness at PHA.

Beekeepers urged to adopt Biosecurity Code of Practice

Beekeepers nationally, commercial and hobby, are being urged to adopt the Australian Honey Bee Industry Biosecurity Code of Practice to keep their bees healthy and to safeguard honey bee and pollination dependent industries.

Honey production is worth more than $100 million annually, along with sales of beeswax, queen and packaged bees. This is dwarfed by the benefits of bee pollination services.

“The aim of the National Bee Biosecurity Program and the associated Biosecurity Code of Practice is to ensure beekeepers have the awareness and knowledge to manage bee pests and diseases, and to detect exotic ones early,” said Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC) Chair Peter McDonald.

“Established pests and diseases like American foulbrood, small hive beetle and chalkbrood are causing significant economic and social harm to the bee industry and this would be exacerbated by an incursion of an exotic pest like the varroa mite,” he said.

AHBIC worked with state governments, the Australian Government and Plant Health Australia to develop the National Bee Biosecurity Program and the Biosecurity Code of Practice. The honey bee industry contributes $400,000 per year to the program through levies.

In some states, legislation has been changed to assist with adoption of the Biosecurity Code of Practice, and bee biosecurity officers and apiary officers are found in each state to assist beekeepers.

“This new management system has been put in place to limit the impact of pests and diseases on the businesses of individual beekeepers, but also the broader industry and economy,” said Plant Health Australia (PHA) Executive Director and CEO Greg Fraser.

The Australian Honey Bee Industry Biosecurity Code of Practice requires the nation’s 1500 commercial beekeepers, who have more than 50 hives each, and the 22,000 hobby beekeepers to use these best-practice biosecurity measures:

  • register as a beekeeper
  • regularly inspect hives for significant pests and diseases
  • report notifiable diseases
  • control or eradicate pests and diseases, and manage weak hives
  • maintain records of biosecurity related actions and observations
  • appropriately construct and brand (label) hives
  • protect hives from neglect or exposure
  • allow their operation to be assessed by bee biosecurity officers.

Commercial beekeepers with more than 50 hives also need to:

  • demonstrate adequate knowledge to identify and manage bee pests and diseases
  • undergo annual honey testing for American foulbrood disease
  • provide a declaration that they operate and manage their bee hives in compliance with the Biosecurity Code of Practice.

In coming months around 200,000 beehives will be transported to and from almond growing regions in southern Australia for pollination, making effective biosecurity of bee hives more important than ever.

More information

BeeAware website: is an important source of information for beekeepers, including the biosecurity code of practice, contact details for bee biosecurity officers, videos and online biosecurity training

Australian Honey Bee Industry Council

The big picture of how Australia protects itself from plant pests and diseases

The latest go-to guide to how Australia protects itself against exotic plant pests and diseases reveals the tremendous effort being made across the country to sustain our plant industries, unique ecosystems and standards of living.

The tenth edition of the National Plant Biosecurity Status Report was released this week by Plant Health Australia (PHA), the national coordinator of the government-industry partnership for plant biosecurity.

“This year the National Plant Biosecurity Status Report displays the system through the three layers of protection: pre-border, at the border and post-border, with examples of how this works in specific circumstances,” said PHA Chair Steve McCutcheon.

The report details the efforts being made by everyone involved in plant biosecurity, be they the Australian or state governments, industries, research agencies and the community.

“The report showcases the investment of $200 million in improving biosecurity surveillance and analysis through the Australian Government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper to better target critical biosecurity risks and help improve market access for Australian producers,” said PHA Executive Director and CEO Greg Fraser.

While the Australian Government has responsibility for biosecurity activities pre-border and at the border, the report also covers the roles of state and territory governments in delivering post-border plant biosecurity and operations under their own legislation,” said Mr Fraser.

“The report highlights hundreds of scientific projects being undertaken around Australia by researchers and funders seeking to solve challenges affecting plant industries and our unique environment.

“Each project sheds light on some aspect of plant or bee biosecurity that will inform better management of pests, crop production and the environment,” Mr Fraser said.

Some 700 scientific studies are listed covering pest management, crop improvement, surveillance, diagnostics and the basic biology of pests, crops and other plants. The pests investigated include insects, bacteria, fungi, viruses, nematodes, mites and weeds.

The report provides industry profiles of some 40 plant industries and includes 31 case studies that highlight facets of the biosecurity system during 2017 including eradication, communication and awareness, surveillance and regionalised and priority pests.

The 2017 edition of the National Plant Biosecurity Status Report was developed from some 90 contributions from plant biosecurity stakeholders.

Download the pdf version of the full report

Plant Health Australia at the Australian Bee Congress

Staff of Plant Health Australia (PHA) attended the 3rd Australian Bee Congress. The congress program was filled with world-class speakers who presented on a wide range of topics. It was also a fabulous opportunity to meet beekeepers and discuss biosecurity issues affecting the Australian honey bee industry.

PHA had a booth located within the trades display area and gave away biosecurity awareness materials, and the Bee Biosecurity Officers were on hand to provide expert advice and information to attendees.

PHA staff also held meetings with the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council, the BBOs and state apiary officers during the congress.

Overall, the congress was a highly successful event, enjoyed by over 900 delegates. After the congress, PHA staff attended the 1st Australian Native Bee Conference with around 200 native bee enthusiasts, researchers and crop growers.

Next generation of fruit fly handbook and website launched

The business of sorting and identifying the thousands of tephritid ‘true’ fruit flies affecting a wide variety of crops grown in Australia has just been made a lot easier.

The Australian Handbook for the Identification of Fruit Flies has always been popular with fruit fly diagnosticians, biosecurity workers, and the general fruit fly community. But, now that it has been fully revised and updated it’s an even more valuable resource. Additional online information has also been developed via the companion website Fruit Fly Identification Australia (fruitflyidentification.org.au).

The leader of the research project that produced these resources, which was supported by the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre, is Dr Mark Schutze, formerly of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) but now at the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (Qld DAF).

“This new resource represents a complete overhaul of the Australian Handbook for the Identification of Fruit Flies. We’ve updated all the fruit fly images using fresh material and produced new, tailor made, molecular diagnostic tools that have emerged from our investment in next generation genomic research.”

“Both the hard copy handbook and online resource will, I’m sure, become an invaluable tool for Australia’s front-line diagnosticians to help protect our horticultural and agricultural industries from exotic fruit flies via more accurate and rapid diagnostics,” Dr Schutze said.

Fruit flies are arguably among the world’s most important fruit pests. They appear on almost every continent and millions of dollars are spent annually on their control and eradication. Over 60 target species of fruit flies are included in the handbook and website, shown both as individual flies and in groups of flies that look similar to each other. Importantly, the range of variation within species is also captured.

“Like other animals, many fruit fly species are incredibly variable in their colour patterns. We’ve done everything we can to represent as much variation as possible in the new version, as well as showing what flies look like when they’ve been preserved using a range of different techniques,” Dr Schutze said.

The research project, website, and handbook were developed in partnership with the Qld DAF, the Western Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, and Plant Health Australia (PHA), who led the website and handbook development.

Mr Nick Woods, PHA’s Manager, National Strategies & Policy Coordination, said that maps showing where the flies are currently found in the world are included.

“Looking at the maps, researchers can immediately tell if the sample they are looking at is usually found in Australia, whether it is regarded as a pest or non-pest, or if it is an exotic species that is new to the country,” Mr Woods said.

“The website contains an expanded selection of high definition images as well as an updated description of the latest DNA techniques and protocols used to identify fruit flies,” Mr Nick Woods

The high-resolution images were taken at QUT under standardised light conditions and ‘stacked’ to produce completely in-focus images, so that comparisons can be made between species and flies can be correctly identified by their morphology (what they look like).

“For so long researchers have been trying to use images from a wide range of sources, collected and stored under different conditions, which can affect how well the sample is preserved and the colours of body parts that are used to identify flies,” Mr Woods said.

“Another advantage to having the website is that there’s less need to keep the printed handbook up-to-date. As new images come to hand they can be readily included in the list of flies on the site that we could one day find in Australia and need to identify.”

“Being able to identify flies by what they look like is only part of the story. Many flies can look superficially the same, so analysing the DNA is sometimes the only way to positively identify a particular species.”

Advances in DNA analysis are included, with detailed techniques available for download and use as recipes in the lab. The website includes a new lucid key for identifying the Dacini species (the group of most direct importance to Australia) developed by Ms Jane Royer of Qld DAF, as well as comprehensive data sheets. There’s also a glossary of terms, but it’s not what you might be thinking.

“The glossary centrepiece is a fly that rotates through 360 degrees, so you can identify the general features of fruit flies from all angles,” Dr Schutze said.

There’s more to the site than a bit of fun spinning a fly. This resource is the product of serious science that underpins so many aspects of Australia’s biosecurity system that allows producers to continue to access export markets with their products.

The handbook and website were launched at the Science Exchange on Wednesday 30 May, held in Melbourne, organised by the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre.