Myrtle rust research receives Biosecurity Impact Award

DAF’s forest pathologist Geoff Pegg's research on myrtle rust received the Biosecurity Impact Award for making measurable change to plant biosecurity. Geoff accepted the award at the Science Exchange 2016 Conference in Creswick, Victoria.

Myrtle rust occurs in Tasmania, along the entire east coast of Australia as far north as the tip of Cape York Peninsula and found most recently in the Tiwi Islands and Darwin in the Northern Territory.

The research provides management options for industries relying on Myrtaceae, including the developing lemon myrtle industry. The studies recognised a potential impact on seedlings and establishing trees in the forestry industry; but also identified opportunities to select for disease resistance in commercially important species like spotted gum and Gympie messmate.

The research demonstrated negative effects on Australia’s unique biodiversity, with local extinctions of highly susceptible plant species and changes in plant community structure.

Continued monitoring programs will identify species and plant communities at greatest risk. Disease screening and tree breeding programs will be needed for some species, since, without human intervention, regaining lost genetic diversity in these populations may not be possible.

The research program has had some significant legislative and strategic outcomes for plant biodiversity conservation. Myrtle rust is now a priority field for the National Environmental Science Program. One future research initiative will prioritise plant species for conservation using risk modelling with species data on susceptibility to myrtle rust.

Funding for the project came from the Plant Biosecurity CRC; with support from DAF, Biosecurity Queensland; DAF Agri-Science Queensland; NSW Department of Primary Industries, developing important international and national collaborations including with the University of the Sunshine Coast.