Posts Tagged ‘Bio-Protection Research Centre’

Alien pest incursions threaten New Zealand’s primary industries

New Zealand’s environment and primary industries are under threat from pests we don’t even know about yet, says Professor Philip Hulme of the Bio-Protection Research Centre, based at Lincoln University.

Professor Hulme was part of a large international collaboration of scientists who analysed 46,000 recorded sightings of invasive animal and plant species around the world. Their research* showed that one in every four new pest incursions were from species that had never before been recorded as being invasive.

“We looked at patterns over the last five centuries to see whether there was any evidence of a slowdown in the number of new pests and weeds emerging around the world, but there wasn’t,” said Professor Hulme.

“Just as many new pests are emerging now as in previous centuries.

“If we look at the pests and weeds already in New Zealand, most have come from Europe, Australia or North America, our traditional trade partners and sources of immigration. However, Asia is now becoming more important to both trade and immigration, and this is where many new pests and weeds appear to be coming from.”

Professor Hulme says we may be entering a new era for biosecurity as we face an increasing wave of unknown emerging pest species.

“We need to make sure our biosecurity system is sufficiently flexible and well-resourced to deal with unexpected incursions by species we probably will know nothing about,” says Professor Hulme.

“The responsibility rests with all of us: government, industry, the public, and every tourist who crosses our borders,” says Prof Hulme.

He urged everybody to be vigilant, understand the risks and take action in a way that minimises the chances of any new pest or disease crossing our borders.

*Seebens, H., Blackburn TM, Dyer EE, Genovesi P, Hulme PE et al. (2018): Global rise in emerging alien species results from increased accessibility of new source pools. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1719429115

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Kauri dieback fungus may have been in NZ for longer than previously believed

Phytophthora agathidicida (PTA), the fungus-like organism that causes kauri dieback, has been in New Zealand much longer than previously thought, a study led by Bio-Protection Research Centre researchers based at Massey University suggests.

Plant geneticist Dr Richard Winkworth and collaborators have been using genome sequencing to investigate when PTA arrived and how it has changed since arriving.

“It had been suggested that PTA arrived in New Zealand not long before the first diseased trees were found in the early 1970s,” Dr Winkworth says.

“However, our results suggest PTA was diversifying in New Zealand kauri forests around 300 years before that. It must have arrived even earlier. Humans may have brought it here – perhaps the pathogen was carried to New Zealand by Polynesian settlers or the earliest European explorers – or it may even have been here before humans arrived.”

The researchers have sequenced and analysed complete mitochondrial genomes of 17 PTA samples collected from sites across the geographical range of the disease.

“The samples we have collected suggest several genetic subgroups within PTA,” Dr Winkworth says.

“To better understand the history of spread through the kauri forests we need to increase our sample size. However, we do see, for example, that several genetic subgroups are present in the Waitākere Ranges, perhaps as the result of human activity.”

These results raise an important question: If PTA has been in New Zealand for at least the last 300 years, why has it only recently become a significant problem?

“The results suggest that the relationship between PTA and its host may have changed,” Dr Winkworth says.

There are several ways this might have happened. One is that genetic changes to PTA have made it more virulent. “It is a possibility, but our results suggest it is not as simple as a single pathogenic form evolving and spreading through the forest,” Dr Winkworth says.

An alternative is that environmental changes have resulted in the disease emerging. The research results are consistent with this possibility.

“Since humans arrived, we have been altering New Zealand environments. Perhaps the combination of heavily fragmenting the kauri forests together with ongoing human-mediated disturbance and climate change has led to emergence of the disease. Perhaps we introduced another pathogen that, in combination with PTA, results in disease.

“If we are to fight back effectively we need to better understand the relationship between when PTA arrived, its pattern of spread, and the emergence of kauri dieback disease,” Dr Winkworth says. “Identifying why kauri dieback disease emerged might help us to move beyond containment to managing and controlling it.”

The research team has also been developing a cheap, robust DNA test that is simple enough for community groups to use in the field, but that is as accurate as laboratory-based testing.

“We are hoping to evaluate the test in field trials in the next few months.” Dr Winkworth says. “We hope that this will make it easier to monitor where PTA is, both for the purposes of management but also to enable further research.”

This Massey University-led research has been largely funded by the Bio-Protection Research Centre, and has involved researcher contributions from Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology, Scion, and the University of Auckland.

Funding confirmed for bioprotection research

The Bio-Protection Research Centre – a Centre of Research Excellence located at Lincoln University – has had its funding confirmed for another five years.

Established in 2003, the centre’s primary goal is to strengthen the value of New Zealand’s pastoral, horticultural and forestry industries through research to generate next generation bioprotection (biosecurity and biocontrol) solutions.

“We are absolutely thrilled that the Tertiary Education Commission has continued to fund the Bio-Protection Research Centre until 2020. The work this Centre does is fundamental research that underpins plant bioprotection and plant biosecurity for New Zealand and is strategically relevant,” says Lincoln University Deputy Vice-Chancellor – Scholarship and Research, Dr Stefanie Rixecker.

The BPRC brings together New Zealand’s leading experts in bioprotection, and is a partnership between Lincoln University, AgResearch, Massey University, Plant & Food Research and Scion.

It includes collaborations with several other national and international research institutes and incorporates one of the strongest bioprotection postgraduate training groups in the Southern Hemisphere.

Former students are employed in research, industry and policy positions throughout the world.

The centre has three main research themes focussed on protecting the plant-based systems in New Zealand: pests and pathogens, biological controls, and biosecurity and invasion.

“The BPRC research is led by outstanding scientists who are leaders in their respective fields and the quality of their scientific work is highly respected,” says Bio-Protection Research Centre Director, Professor Travis Glare.

The funding gave financial security to the centre for the coming five years to continue to work very closely with other government organisations and industry, to develop novel bioprotection tools and solutions, Professor Glare said.

Lincoln student in frontline of battle against stink bug

Lincoln University PhD student Laura Nixon is working on the development of a weapon in the fight to stop the brown marmorated stink bug coming into the country.

The bug is regarded by New Zealand’s horticulture industry as one of the top six pests of concern.

Ms Nixon’s research is funded through a multiorganisational research collaboration, Better Border Security (B3) and she is based at the Bio-Protection Research Centre on Lincoln’s Te Waihora campus.

Her aim is to come up with a way to chemically detect an infestation of the bugs in a confined space such as a shipping container, one of the ways it is envisaged the insect could make its way into the country.

The brown marmorated stink bug is an agricultural pest found in Asia, but it has invaded the United States and it is considered highly likely it could successfully establish in New Zealand if it gets here.

Since the insect arrived in the United States in the mid-1990s it has occasionally multiplied into plague proportions. In 2010 it caused US$37 million damage to apple crops across several states.

It feeds on more than 300 hosts, primarily fruit trees and woody ornamentals but also field crops. Almost any crop can be at risk.

Ms Nixon says the chemical compound, or the stink, the bugs emit when disturbed has been identified but she will work on trying to distinguish it from amongst other naturally emitted odours.

Initially she will work with native stink bugs, which are not considered pests, and then travel to the United States to see if her results can be used on the pest species.

She says the bugs are closely related so it is expected they will.

Ms Nixon says the bugs tend to live in big groups or aggregations, so if one container gets through then there could be a problem.

Hopefully her work will ensure it is stopped at the border, she says.

She says the method could be used to detect other insects such as ants and harlequin ladybirds which are also considered pests, though they present other challenges as they give of lower odour levels.

Her role involves developing the chemistry to the stage the odour can be detected and the commercial application may be undertaken by others.

The smell of success: insect pests avoid boosted pasture grasses

A  study from the Bio-Protection Research Centre has shown for the first time that pasture grasses containing beneficial microorganisms are less attractive to soil-dwelling insect pests.

Most New Zealand ryegrass and fescue pastures contain beneficial microorganisms that live within the grass shoots. These fungal endophytes are key to the country’s healthy grasslands. In return for food and shelter the endophyte can help its host grass resist insect attack, survive droughts, and even protect against overgrazing.

Insect pests are attracted to plants by odour as they can smell minute amounts of chemical compounds that tell them if a plant is damaged or healthy.

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Biosecurity warning sounded: new pastures may create future weed threat

Breeding new fast-growing grass varieties that produce more seeds and are resistant to drought, pests, grazing and disease may inadvertently be creating the next generation of invasive weeds, an international team of researchers has warned.

As the global demand for dairy and beef escalates, farmers are increasingly seeking ways to reap greater productivity from their pastures.

The problem, according to Philip Hulme, Professor of Plant Biosecurity at Lincoln University and lead researcher at the Bio-Protection Research Centre, is that in making grass varieties more robust, they are more prone to becoming a problem for the environment.

The researchers have made four biosecurity recommendations for government, industry and researchers.

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