Posts Tagged ‘AgResearch’

Endangered beetle faces ‘unholy alliance’ of rabbits and redbacks

An “unholy alliance” between rabbits and Australian redback spiders is threatening the existence of an endangered New Zealand species, a study led by AgResearch has shown.

Carried out with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and University of Otago, the study has illustrated the struggle for the ongoing survival of the Cromwell chafer beetle – a nationally endangered native species that can now be found only in the 81 hectare Cromwell Chafer Beetle Nature Reserve between Cromwell and Bannockburn, in Central Otago.

The study found numerous rabbit holes that provided shelter for the rabbits were also proving ideal spaces for the redback spiders to establish their webs. Investigation of those webs in the rabbit holes found the Cromwell chafer beetle was the second-most commonly found prey of the spiders.

These findings “give a fascinating insight into the almost accidental relationships that can develop between species in the natural world, and how that can impact on other species,” says AgResearch Principal Scientist Dr Barbara Barratt.

As a result of the research, DOC has carried out a programme to break down old rabbit holes and hummocks in the reserve to destroy spider nests, and does regular rabbit control. An annual survey for beetle larvae with AgResearch will show whether these actions are having an effect.

Beetle larvae will be surveyed next summer to see what effect reducing redback spider nests is having on the Cromwell chafer beetle.

The Cromwell chafer beetle (Prodontria lewisi) is a large flightless beetle that lives underground in the sandy soils of the Cromwell river terrace. In spring and summer adult beetles emerge from the ground at night to feed on plants and to breed.

AgResearch CEO says NZ will benefit from new science links with China

AgResearch has announced it intends to form a joint international research centre with China’s largest state–owned food company and largest university research department specialising in food science and nutrition.

A Collaboration Arrangement was signed earlier this month in Beijing with the Nutrition and Health Research Institute within the China Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation and with the College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering of China Agriculture University.

The parties will explore opportunities to work together formally in the name of a “Joint International Research Centre for Food Science” to promote international exchange, research and productivity, with a particular focus on further enhancing a China/New Zealand relationship”.

The arrangement states:

“The overall goal of the collaboration is to initiate activities that are of mutual benefit to the parties in terms of knowledge development, scientific and technological innovation and economic benefit”.

AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson says the relationship with such influential institutions – from the world’s most populous country with a rapidly expanding middle class – opens up a host of opportunities for AgResearch, and agriculture and agribusiness in New Zealand.

Some of the key research areas where AgResearch expects to work closely with COFCO and CAU are food science, processing, food assurance and safety, and human nutrition.

Long-distance survival: effects of storage time and environmental exposure on soil bugs

Contaminated soil, widely recognised as a vector for non-native species, is a biosecurity threat to agriculture and horticulture and to natural ecosystems.

But although soil is the target of management practices that aim to minimise the spread of invasive alien species, not much is known about the relative survival rates of transported soil organisms, nor about their establishment probabilities.

A recent study, led by Mark McNeill from AgResearch’s Biosecurity and Biocontrol team at Lincoln and published in the open access journal NeoBiota, shows that biosecurity risks from soil organisms are to increase with declining transport duration and increasing protection from environmental extremes.

The scientists had aimed to find out if soil organisms are still risky after a year in the sun.

To find out, the  team collected soil from both a native forest and an orchard and stored it on, in and under sea containers, as well as in cupboards. They tested it after three, six and twelve months for bacteria, fungi, nematodes and seeds.

“Soil can carry unwanted microbes, insects and plants, and this study showed that some died faster when exposed, than when protected in a cupboard. This work shows some of the risks presented by soil contamination,” Mark says.

“The results showed that viability of certain bacteria, nematodes and plants declined over 12 months, irrespective of soil source and where the soil was stored. But mortality of most organisms was higher when exposed to sunlight, moisture and desiccation than when protected,” he explains.

“However, bacterial and fungal numbers were higher in exposed environments, possibly due to ongoing colonisation of exposed soil by airborne propagules.”

The results were consistent with previous observations that organisms in soil intercepted from seaports tend to carry less bugs than soil found on footwear.

The research also raises wider questions, because some results were unexpected, including trying to understand why the microbe numbers went up and down like they did in the soil sitting on the sea containers when everything else died off.

Was it the circle of life or just new microbe migrants creating new populations?

The team hopes the work will be useful for plant quarantine authorities to assess the risk presented by transported soil based partly on where the soil is found and the age of the soil.

This would help authorities to optimally allocate management resources according to pathway-specific risks. Importantly, the study will assist in the development of recommendations for increasing management efficiency and efficacy at national borders.

 

Journal Reference:

Mark R. McNeill, Craig B. Phillips, Andrew P. Robinson, Lee Aalders, Nicky Richards, Sandra Young, Claire Dowsett, Trevor James, Nigel Bell. Defining the biosecurity risk posed by transported soil: Effects of storage time and environmental exposure on survival of soil biota. NeoBiota, 2017; 32: 65 DOI: 10.3897/neobiota.32.9784

EPA to consider AgResearch application to evaluate new grass species

AgResearch’s Margot Forde Germplasm Centre has applied to the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate 18 new grass species in real farm conditions, rather than in the laboratory or containment facilities.

The EPA, which is  calling for submissions on this proposal, says the new grass species could help make New Zealand’s pastures become more tolerant to disease, pests and drought. This could improve productivity, increase returns to farmers and enhance the environment.

The grasses are all closely related to perennial ryegrass, New Zealand’s most common pasture grass. The aim is to transfer desirable traits from the 18 species to ryegrass by integration and crossbreeding. The new species would not themselves be grown as pasture.

While new to New Zealand, the 18 grass species are distant relatives of New Zealand native grass species. The EPA says it is therefore highly unlikely they would hybridise naturally with native grasses. They are wild relatives of pasture grass species already in cultivation in New Zealand.

The new grasses have adapted to harsher growing environments overseas and possess desirable traits such as drought tolerance, pest and disease resistance, and being nutrient efficient. Incorporating these traits could improve the resilience of local pasture and reduce the need for fertiliser, irrigation, pesticides and herbicides, lowering farmers’ input costs and enabling more sustainable, environmentally friendly farming practices.

Another potential benefit is being able to reduce grazing animals’ methane emissions, which would help New Zealand to meet its target under the UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

AgResearch says it will pay particular attention to the potential for any new cultivars to become weeds affecting maize, wheat, barley and other crops, and will work with Plant and Food Research on this issue. After a weed risk assessment it ruled out one species for entry into New Zealand.

Public submissions on the proposal opened on Wednesday and will close at 5pm on Wednesday 22 February 2017.

AgResearch establishes new international science links

New relationships are being forged between AgResearch and key overseas science organisations.

The first is a strategic partnership with Uruguay’s National Institute of Agricultural Research, Catalonia’s Research & Technology & Food & Agriculture and Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority. It will focus on sustainability of the dairy, beef and sheep sectors.

In Uruguay, AgResearch is part of a family farm improvement project funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Knowledge built up in New Zealand will help lift the productivity and profitability in family farming in Uruguay, as well as helping in its retention of farmers in remote areas.

Another agreement between AgResearch and Teagasc is focussed on developing the next generation of scientists in both New Zealand and Ireland.

The agreement will mean co-funding seven PhD students who spend time between the two countries, and working in key areas that include greenhouse gas emissions, food safety and parasite control.

Huge savings estimated from wasp introduced to curb clover root weevil

A humble Irish wasp has saved New Zealand almost half a billion dollars, AgResearch estimates.

The estimates also show that the benefits of the introduction of the wasp by AgResearch to control the highly destructive clover root weevil are expected to continue at an ongoing rate of at least $158 million a year.

The total benefit of the biological control programme from 2006 – when the imported wasp was first released in an experimental phase – through to this year is estimated at at least $489m. This is based on reduced production losses on sheep and beef farms, and reduced use of urea fertiliser to compensate for damage from the weevil.

“It’s a fantastic example of how our science is making a real and profound difference to our agricultural sector and economy,” says AgResearch Science Team Leader Alison Popay.

“It’s also a real success story in the continuing battle against pests on New Zealand’s farms.”

The clover root weevil, an invasive pest from the northern hemisphere which feeds on clover, was first detected in New Zealand in 1996. A 2005 study estimated that without control it could cut farm margins by 10 to 15 per cent.

AgResearch started a research and development programme in 1996, and after testing to ensure its safety, the Irish wasp was cleared for release in New Zealand in 2005. It spread around the country with releases by AgResearch, and as wasps were provided to farmers.

The programme research and development costs have been about $8.2 million.

The wasp injects its eggs in the adult root weevil, and the resulting grubs inside the weevil render it infertile. Once fully grown, the grub kills the weevil as it eats its way out. One wasp can kill about 85 clover root weevils.

“The wasp was so successful the team found that it reduced weevil populations by around 90 per cent in monitored areas where the wasp is well established,” Dr Popay says.

The control programme has been supported by DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Federated Farmers, the Clover Root Weevil Action group, the New Zealand Landcare Trust and fertiliser companies.

 

Wool as a `last line of defence’ for armed forces and emergency services

AgResearch reports its scientists have been putting the heat on wool garments to see what level of fire protection they can provide to those in the armed forces or emergency services.

With wool’s burn-resistant properties being well understood, AgResearch – working alongside co-funder Australian Wool Innovation and UK-based New Zealand company Armadillo Merino – has been exploring how wool base layer or “next to skin” garments respond to flame and intense heat, and specifically how absorbed moisture in the wool affects the flammability.

“For those in the armed forces or emergency services a lot of the main focus is on the outer garments, for obvious reasons, but here we have looked at the additional defence a base layer garment can offer,” says Dr Alex Hodgson, who has led the work for AgResearch.

“One of the experiments we did was to test out how skin beneath a wool base layer is affected by fire – using the skin from a pig carcass. From this, we found evidence that wool garments could lessen the severity of burn injury as compared to standard issue base layers used by police and military personnel in the UK.”

“What we are aiming to show is how effective wool garments can be as a last line of defence in clothing for those working in environments where they may be faced with the risk of fire and intense heat. The relatively high level of absorbed moisture in wool does appear to provide an advantage.”

Andy Caughey, of Armadillo Merino, says the research demonstrates that injuries can be reduced or prevented by wearing a next-to-skin layer of merino as their first or last line of defence.

AWI says it is continuing to invest in a range of targeted research and development to build and extend the scientific credentials for wool’s natural and unique attributes. These include the ability to manage a microclimate next to the skin, to resist odour and to provide inherent flame resistance without requiring chemical modification.

Some of the work done by AgResearch scientists is due to be presented at a textile flammability conference in Melbourne later this month.