Australian environmental experts are keen to explore a unified approach to combat myrtle rust, in the hope of preventing the devastating disease from spreading
to Western Australia.
The need for a more coordinated response was raised in a recent national workshop coordinated by the TSR Hub in April, amid concerns that previous efforts have been sporadic and ineffective. A working group was established to progress a national plan.
“We believe there are still things we can do to mitigate the impacts of myrtle rust and prevent extinctions,” said Dr Ben Phillips, who leads the Hub’s Project 1.4.
Myrtle rust is an exotic fungal plant disease that entered Australia in 2010 and has since spread rapidly throughout eastern Australia, infecting and killing plants in the Myrtaceae family (eucalypts, tea trees, bottle brushes and paperbarks).
More than 350 plant species are already affected and 30 species are at serious risk of extinction.
“While it’s now almost impossible to rid Australia of myrtle rust, because its spores disperse so easily, our focus is keeping it away from WA (a biodiversity hotspot for native plants) and working to mitigate its impacts,” explained Dr Phillips.
The workshop was attended by leading biosecurity experts from government, research institutions, primary industry groups and conservation parks and led to the establishment of a working group to oversee Australia’s first national myrtle rust protection plan.
Dr Geoff Pegg, Forest Pathologist at the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and workshop organiser, is optimistic about the plan.
“I think it’s important for us to take what we have learned from the myrtle rust outbreak and develop better structures for dealing with invasive pests and pathogens in native ecosystems,” said Dr Pegg.
“The working group established in this workshop will form and oversee those structures.”
The group will use its extensive biosecurity experience and incorporate advice from American and New Zealand experts to mitigate the damage caused by myrtle rust and prepare for other potential new disease outbreaks.
Dr Phil Cannon from the United States Department of Agriculture, which has been dealing with the challenges of exotic plant diseases in Hawaii and California, highlighted that a national protection plan will help to keep out many more, and worse, pathogens yet to enter Australia.
Workshop participants toured the Brisbane Botanic Gardens to observe the extensive damage caused by myrtle rust, hearing firsthand accounts from botanists who documented the spread of infection and the vulnerability of certain myrtle species.
The workshop was facilitated by Dr Lucy Sutherland, National Coordinator of the Australian National Botanic Gardens' Australian Seed Bank Partnership.
New Hub research has quantified the extent of predation by cats on Australia’s birds and identified the species and types of birds most vulnerable to cats. The team found that cats kill over 1 million birds per day in Australia. The total is made up of an estimated 316 million birds killed by feral cats and 61 million killed by pet cats each year.
Sound recorders have been installed across farm land in south-western Victoria and on Kangaroo Island in research to help threatened glossy black-cockatoos and south-eastern red-tailed black-cockatoos, by learning more about their breeding.
As cats and foxes have spread across Australia, islands have prevented the extinctions of several mammals like the boodie. Associate Professor Sarah Legge discusses the importance of safe havens and also summarizes the highlights of a recent 'safe-haven' symposium held at the International Mammalogy Congress in Perth.
The TSR Hub is one of six National Environmental Science Programme hubs and each is making its own important contribution to the national effort to recover our threatened species. Hub Director Brendan Wintle takes a look beyond the TSR Hub to highlight the good work being done on threatened species by our sister hubs.
On sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island a multi-million dollar eradication program removed cats in 2000 and rabbits, rats and mice in 2013. In the aftermath of this effort, beautiful things are emerging. Dr Justine Shaw is leading a TSR Hub project to learn from this experience and monitor how ecosystems respond.