‘Myrtle Rust – The silent killer’ – A video by the Australian Network for Plant Conservation

 

A fantastic and informative film called ‘Myrtle Rust – the silent killer’ has been published on YouTube, which shares first-hand stories from indigenous rangers, scientists and landowners in Queensland and northern NSW about this exotic plant disease. 

Myrtle rust is an exotic plant disease that threatens the life of our native plant species and is a major new threat to Australia’s flora. The most serious declines reported to date being in New South Wales and South East Queensland. 

 

The film has been led by the Australian Network for Plant Conservation (ANPC). 

While it focusses on myrtle rust, which is caused by the microfungus Austropuccinia psidii, it has some great insights into the value of protecting our unique ecosystems from biosecurity threats for generations to come. 

In the film they share their first-hand experiences with this fungal disease and its impact on our precious species and landscapes.  

EMBED YouTube video onto page: https://youtu.be/377xA_FeJoA 

The Australian Network for Plant Conservation has been at the center of attempts by concerned scientists and conservation practitioners to develop a coordinated and funded national response to this threat.  

This film was a collaborative project led by Queensland Agriculture with support from the ANPC, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, NSW Government, the Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation, and the Plant Biosecurity Science Foundation. 

 

About myrtle rust and ANPC National Action Plan 

In 2020, ANPC developed a National Action Plan to make up for the lack of nationally coordinated response strategy for the environmental dimensions of this threat.  

According to the plan, the pathogen attacks new growth on species in plants (Myrtaceae family), such as eucalypts, tea-trees, paperbarks, lillypillies, and many other groups. Seedlings are particularly vulnerable, and repeated infection of adult plants can lead to defoliation, loss of reproductive capacity, and death. The fungus favors moist habitats and under current climate conditions, is unlikely to be a threat in drier areas. Even though it is not a direct threat to human or animal health, the loss of those plants may affect some animal species, human economic, social, and cultural values and amenity, and ecosystem integrity.  

Moreover, this loss will result in an economic impact felt by tourism, recreation, and nursery and garden industries, including rural, regional, and indigenous enterprises. The decline and likely extinction of several species over time would also be a loss to Australia’s genetic resources and biological heritage.  

The spores of the myrtle rust pathogen are spread very easily by wind, by a variety of animals, and by human movement and activity. Once established in a climatically suitable area the disease is extremely hard, usually impossible, to eradicate. 

Research into the disease showed that it had a strong potential to infect plant species. By 2020 it was estimated that the fungus was capable of infecting over 382 native Australian plant species or subspecies. The number is expected to increase, especially if the geographical reach of myrtle rust in Australia increases. Only about 3% of native species so far have failed to develop the infection. 

Unfortunately, trying to manage the disease and eradicate it with a biological agent in the wild is very unlikely to be successful, even though some options may be worth investigating. On the other hand, myrtle rust seems to be responsive to management by hygiene and fungicidal treatments in cultivated situation (horticulture). 

This National Action Plan provides the foundation for a coordinated national environmental response to myrtle rust research and on-ground actions. Its goals are to minimise declines and extinctions of native species due to myrtle rust and to mitigate the decline in the integrity and function of their host ecosystems. 

You can look at the plan here 

 

Want to contribute to the ANPC’s work? 

From November 2022 to April 2023 ANPC is raising funds for its work on myrtle rust to: 

  • Further develop the myrtle rust information hub on their website to provide even more up-to-date, scientifically accurate information and images of the disease and the species affected by it. 
  • Continue to identify relevant global research and information and bring this to the heart of decision making about myrtle rust in Australia. 
  • Share their evidence-based resources with the wider conservation community. 
  • Continue to work across the silos that divide the people and resources needed for an integrated national response to the disease. 
  • Promote the National Action Plan for myrtle rust, and lobby for the new resources that will be needed by botanic gardens and agencies to implement it. 
  • Promote improved environmental biosecurity measures for this and future environmental plant diseases. 

If you want to donate or have questions about the above, you can jump on the ANPC Myrtle Rust Hub. 

 

Sources: ANPC website https://www.anpc.asn.au/myrtle-rust/; ANPC Myrtle Rust National Action Plan  

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