PHA co-operating with New Zealand to fight plant pests and diseases

June 27, 2017

Following the recent discovery that the fungal plant disease myrtle rust has made it to New Zealand, Plant Health Australia (PHA) will be working in an international research partnership to address the new threat to New Zealand’s environment and plant industries.

The New Zealand Catalyst Fund supports international research partnerships and scientific cooperation. In this case, New Zealand researchers from Better Border Biosecurity (B3), Plant & Food Research (PFR) and Scion have been successful in their bid for funds to work closely with PHA, which will lead the Australian end of the research collaboration.

Grant Smith, the project leader from PFR, explains that myrtle rust poses a significant threat to many species that have environmental, economic, social and cultural importance in New Zealand.

“Species at risk include the indigenous pōhutukawa, mānuka, rātā, kānuka, maire and ramarama, as well as exotic plants such as Eucalyptus species and feijoa,” Dr Smith said.

“The research plan is to test the susceptibility of our plants to the new pest and to conserve any species that might not otherwise survive – steps that Australia had to take when myrtle rust made it to Australia seven years ago. We also plan to develop ways to detect myrtle rust in the field and surveillance systems to track its spread,” Dr Smith added.

Greg Fraser, Executive Director and CEO of PHA, said that the two countries have much to gain from cooperating on plant biosecurity.

“Australia can assist New Zealand on the issue of managing myrtle rust, but the assistance goes both ways,” Mr Fraser said.

“For example, New Zealand has been helping PHA to develop videos about the likely effects of a varroa mite incursion, because the mite has been in New Zealand honey bee hives for nearly two decades. Scientists helped us to make the videos, which will prepare our beekeepers and crop farmers in case of an incursion of the mite in Australia.

“In addition, both countries are cooperating on keeping out pests such as the brown marmorated stink bug, a pest of significant nuisance overseas that neither country wants,” Mr Fraser added.

Dr David Teulon, Director of New Zealand’s Better Border Biosecurity (B3) agrees on the value of collaborations of this nature.

“Smart partnerships like this achieve better outcomes than working alone,” Dr Teulon said.

The myrtle rust project will employ expertise from PHA, PFR, Scion, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Te Turi Whakamātaki (National Maori Biosecurity Network), Wellington Botanic Gardens and Kew Gardens (UK) and will link closely to other science initiatives being developed through B3, the Biological Heritage NSC and co-ordinated through MPI’s Myrtle Rust Strategic Science Advisory Group.