Scion seeks approval to release small wasp to tackle giant aphid

The Environmental Protection Authority is seeking views on an application to release a small parasitic wasp to control and eradicate the giant willow aphid.

The authority (EPA) is considering the application by New Zealand Crown Research Institute Scion.

One of the largest aphid species, Tuberolachnus salignus can grow 5.8mm in length. It was first reported in New Zealand in December 2013 in Auckland and has spread quickly across the country.

Environmental risks posed by the giant willow aphid include damaging willow trees which may affect riverbank stability in the countryside. Bees that drink honeydew made by the aphid produce a sour, unmarketable honey.

The applicant seeks to release the small parasitic wasp, Pauesia nigrovaria, to control and eradicate the giant willow aphid. The female wasp lays an egg inside the aphid which hatches and ultimately eats the aphid from the inside, Scion says.

Submitters have until 5pm on 17 September to have their say.

More detailed information can be found HERE. 

Source:  Environmental Protection Authority 

Biocontrol for eucalyptus tortoise beetle

The Environmental Protection Authority is considering an application to release a parasitoid wasp to control the eucalyptus tortoise beetle.

Scion, the Crown Research Institute focused on research, science and technological development for the forestry and timber industries, has lodged the application.

“The Australian eucalyptus tortoise beetle causes significant damage to susceptible species of eucalypts. Its larvae feed voraciously on eucalyptus leaves for three weeks before pupating. Adult female beetles also feed heavily as they develop,” says the EPA’s General Manager of Hazardous Substances and New Organisms, Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter.

“According to the applicant, the beetle costs the forest industry $1.0-$2.6 million a year in chemical control costs. It estimates that effective biocontrol could prevent $7.2 million in annual losses caused by impaired tree growth and yield attributable to the eucalyptus tortoise beetle.”

Farm foresters and owners of moderately-sized eucalyptus plantations cannot afford aerial spraying, so biocontrol is their only realistic option to combat damage done by the beetle, Scion notes.

“Eucalyptus trees are grown in New Zealand as a source of products such as woodchips for paper and cardboard manufacture, lumber, and durable poles which do not require preservative treatment,” Dr Thomson-Carter says.

“Scion notes around 90 percent of tortoise beetle larvae survive into adulthood. But if a larva is attacked just once by the parasitoid wasp, survival drops to just 10 percent.”

The wasp is harmless to humans.

New Zealand has no native beetles of the same type as the eucalyptus tortoise beetle, and no native eucalyptus species, Scion says.

Its laboratory tests suggest the risks to non-target related native and beneficial beetles appears to be very low. It has discussed the application with various Māori groups.

Public submissions on this application open today and close on November 14.

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

CRIs are collecting seeds in the race against myrtle rust

Pōhutukawa, mānuka, kānuka and other New Zealand seeds are being collected, grown, and tested for resilience to myrtle rust, a disease with the potential to wipe out entire native species and drastically change the country’s native landscape.

Myrtle rust attacks and can seriously affect plants in the Myrtaceae (myrtle) family, including pōhutukawa, mānuka, kānuka and rātā.

The fungal pathogen that causes myrtle rust is called Austropuccinia psidii. This fungus produces millions of small yellow-coloured spores that are easily wind-blown to new plants.

The pathogen was first found in Australia in 2010 and seven years later was identified in New Zealand. Since then it has spread quickly and has been reported on at least 600 properties.

An article by Suzette Howe, posted on the Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research website, says the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has launched a full-scale attack to better understand the disease and limit its impact on NZ’s  Myrtaceae plants.

Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research is one of a team of institutes taking part in the research programme.  It will be working on the project closely with Plant & Food Research over the next two years.

“What we are trying to do is work out which species are going to be affected by myrtle rust, so to do that we are collecting seed from a whole range of Myrtaceae species, i.e. from the family that is going to be affected by myrtle rust,” says ,” says Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research scientist Dr Gary Houliston.

“They’ll be sent to Australia to a screening facility, where they will be challenged with myrtle rust to see what’s susceptible,” he says.

Plant & Food Research plant pathologist Grant Smith, another of the key researchers working on the project, has worked in Australia helping with their response to myrtle rust and now oversees the seed collecting in New Zealand.

“Right now, what we are trying to do is get enough science data so we can make some decisions in 18 months about how we can respond from a science perspective to myrtle rust in New Zealand – for example, do we have resistance in mānuka that we can exploit in a breeding programme?” he says.

“We are also selecting material to safeguard via germplasm collections or seed banking,” says Dr Smith.

Testing seed resilience to the disease will give researchers information around ‘seed lines’ in New Zealand provinces that show a lot of resilience.

Mānuka and kānuka seeds are the first species to be collected and sent to Australia to be tested. From there, over the next year researchers will collect pōhutakawa and rātā and coordinate with other groups like Scion who are also doing research into this.

“This phase is what I consider to be a ‘secure future options’ to ensure we have options available for decisions we have yet to make,” says Dr Smith.

“In Australia, species extinction across the natural range of the plants is now becoming apparent. Understanding what resistance we have in our native plants, and seed banking those plants now before things get too bad, is essential to ensure we have the plant species available for future options,” he said.

All seed sent to Australia will be destroyed at the end of the project. Extra seed collected during the project is stored in seed banks in New Zealand.

Source: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions on Māori-owned farms

Scion, in partnership with AgFirst, is undertaking a research programme funded by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC) looking at GHG mitigation options for Māori-owned pastoral farms.

The research programme is led by Dr Tanira Kingi (Scion), based in Rotorua, and managed by Phil Journeaux (AgFirst) out of their Hamilton office.

It is aimed at understanding how diversified Māori farms like Te Uranga B2 can improve their carbon profile further with changes to the management system and land use diversification.

The programme will develop a carbon and economic profile of the current operation of the incorporation’s dairy, sheep & beef and forestry operations and then model hypothetical changes that the Committee of Management want to explore, to see the affect on carbon emissions and profitability.

The programme is collaborating with DairyNZ, B+LNZ, Federation of Māori Authorities and Te Tumu Paeroa to share the findings with the wider agribusiness community.

While this study is carried out on Māori-owned farms, it is the first research programme in the country that is modelling both farm management mitigation options and land use changes and is therefore relevant to New Zealand’s entire agricultural industry.

This news orginally was included in the Autumn 2018 newsletter of Te Uranga B2 at 

Source: New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre


Scion report says biofuels could lead NZ to a green transport future

New Zealand could build a renewable low-carbon transport fuels industry and cut its greenhouse gas emissions, but only if the nation decides to act, according to a new report from Scion.

Nearly a quarter of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2015 were from combustible fuels.

The report from Scion suggests biofuels could have a major impact in reducing these emissions.

The New Zealand Biofuels Roadmap Summary Report sets out how New Zealand could turn feedstock crops into green fuels for heavy transport, ships and aircraft, boosting our energy security as well as cutting emissions.

Using specially-developed computer model, the researchers have simulated scenarios of what crops and processing facilities would be needed to produce different quantities of transport fuel sustainability.

Readers can learn more from –

New Zealand Herald science writer Jamie Morton  (here) writes:

The modelling explored substituting fossil fuels for biofuel, at proportions ranging between five and 50 per cent.

With combustion of liquid fossil fuels in 2015 representing about 23 per cent of New Zealand’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions, biofuels could have a major impact on overall lowering of carbon emissions, the authors found.

By growing longer-term crops, such as energy forests, New Zealand could build a bio-fuelled future.

However, quantitative scenario modelling showed tens of thousands of hectares of purpose-grown feedstock crops and billions of dollars of capital investment in processing plant construction and production would be needed to make that ideal a reality.

The study findings, presented in the New Zealand Biofuels Roadmap Summary Report, showed how drop-in fuels from non-food feedstocks – particularly forestry grown on non-arable land – was the most attractive option.

This form of biofuel production could also drive regional development and employment growth in regions such as Northland, East Coast and the central North Island.

The Science Media Centre has gathered expert reaction to the report and published it here.

Continue reading

The economic impact of weeds seems much greater than previously estimated

The true cost of weeds to New Zealand’s agricultural economy is likely to be far higher than previous research would suggest, according to a new study funded by AgResearch.

AgResearch and Scion scientists worked with economists from Lincoln University’s Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit to review the available published research on the costs of weeds to New Zealand’s productive land (for the pastoral, arable and forestry sectors). That review reached a conservative overall estimate of $1.658 billion a year (based on 2014 costs).

“The research on weed costs done previously used differing approaches, and the numbers were sometimes outdated or contained guesswork,” says AgResearch principal scientist Dr Graeme Bourdôt.

“In addition, the estimate of $1.658b only covers the few weed species – 10 of the 187 pasture weeds, some arable land weeds and forestry weeds – that have been the subject of research into their impacts. The focus has largely been on the loss of production. The substantial costs of weed control, such as the use of herbicides, was not always considered.”

“Given all of these limitations, the true cost of the weeds to the agricultural sector is likely to be much higher than the $1.658b estimate.”

The study looked at the economic impact of some of the more widespread and destructive weed species such as gorse, broom, yellow bristle grass and Californian thistle.

“We also developed a dynamic approach for estimating the potential costs of weeds that have not yet realised their potential range in New Zealand, taking account of possible rates of spread, maximum geographic extent and changes in consumer prices for agricultural products,” Dr Bourdôt says.

“This dynamic approach applied to the Giant Buttercup weed in dairy pastures indicates that this weed alone would cost the dairy industry $592 million per year in lost milk solids revenue if it were to spread across its entire range over the next 20 years.”

“New Zealand has one of the highest levels of invasion by introduced plant species in the world, and there has always been a shortage of information when it comes to their economic costs on productive land.”

Knowing more about these costs is important to developing cost-effective ways to tackle weeds, and in quantifying the benefits of research aimed at ensuring New Zealand does not lag other countries.

NZBIO award goes to Scion for new ‘green’ glue for wood products

Scion’s environmentally friendly bioadhesives technology has been awarded Biotechnology of the Year at NZBio’s annual conference.

Dr Will Barker, chief executive of NZBioO, described the technology as “a game changer” for wood panel manufacturers.

The Scion bioadhesives team, led by Warren Grigsby, has developed a world-first 100 per cent bio-based adhesive and resins for engineered wood products. Made from natural sources, such as forestry and agricultural waste, these adhesives and resins are petrochemical-free, have very low formaldehyde emissions and can be made and used in existing manufacturing operations.

Grigsby said the team had spent years mixing and matching assorted ingredients to come up with right recipe. “This is the icing on the cake,” he said.

The technology has been trademarked and patented as “Ligate”.

Grigsby said:

“The ‘green’ credentials of Ligate products will provide manufacturers with a competitive advantage over wood processors using conventional petrochemical-based adhesives and resins.

“Adhesives and resins made from natural sources have a lower environmental footprint and are considered more socially acceptable than their traditional formaldehyde-based counterparts.”

The technology has already attracted international interest. Grigsby will travel to Europe next week to further profile the technology at two international conferences.

More information can be found here.


UAV: A remote sensing platform for primary industries

Scion has spent the past nine months acquiring a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) and sensors to gather remote data for New Zealand’s primary industries.

While forestry is the key application Scion is finding there are uses in horticulture, predator pest management and animal health.

At a lecture in Rotorua next Tuesday Marie Heaphy will cover the process of becoming familiar with flying a UAV and meeting Civil Aviation regulations, outline how the different sensors work, provide case studies on research completed so far and finish with future work.

The aircraft will be set up to allow a closer look. The lecture will be followed by coffee and cookies.

Details: 6pm Tuesday 9 August, Rimu Room, Scion, 49 Sala Street, Rotorua

Lectures are open to the public – $5 entry, or free entry for members of the Rotorua branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand, which has organised the event.

Website provides access to bioresource processing technology

 The Bioresource Processing Alliance’s new website provides a gateway to some of New Zealand’s top scientists, engineers and economic specialists in biological resource processing.

The BPA, an alliance between four of the country’s national research providers – AgResearch, Callaghan Innovation, Plant & Food Research and Scion – aims to expand New Zealand’s export opportunities by adding value to biological resources. Many of these resources are low value secondary by-products and waste streams from primary industries.

BPA board chairman Garth Carnaby says  the website will enable businesses and investors to tap into some of the best technical facilities, research and processing knowledge available in the country.

Continue reading

Review of gene editing and GMOs in NZ is triggered by High Court ruling in Scion case

A High Court ruling on genetic modification – it quashed a decision by the Environmental Protection Authority to allow the development of GM pine crops – is examined on a Sciblogs post today and in an article in the NZ Herald.

Scion, the Crown Research Institute, had gone to the authority in 2012 to find if it could use two new breeding techniques to grow pine trees.

The authority ruled the trees were not genetically modified and allowed them to be exempt from the law which restricts genetically modified crops in New Zealand.

The High Court has found it misinterpreted the law.

Continue reading