NEW ZEALAND SCIENTISTS MEET TO MITIGATE THE IMPACT OF MYRTLE RUST

About 50 researchers met in Christchurch on 15 May to brain-storm science solutions with which to mitigate the impact of myrtle rust after the disease was found for the first time in New Zealand on Raoul Island (announced 4 April) and in the North Island (announced 4 May). 

“Myrtle rust could be one of the most significant biosecurity incursions in New Zealand in recent years with potentially important environmental, economic, social and cultural impacts that would affect most New Zealanders” says B3 Director Dr David Teulon.

Myrtle rust is a South American fungal disease that has been rapidly spreading throughout the world.  It attacks many plant species in the Myrtaceae plant family and is considered a serious threat to a number of valued plant species in New Zealand, including the indigenous pōhutukawa, rātā, kānuka, mānuka, maire and ramarama, and exotic plants such as Eucalyptus species and feijoa. 

This science-focussed workshop followed on from an earlier awareness-raising myrtle rust workshop in Wellington in December 2016 which was attended by a wide range of interested parties.  Participants at the May workshop came from the Better Border Biosecurity (B3) collaboration, the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge, the National Māori Biosecurity Network, five Crown Research Institutes, The Ministry for Primary Industries, The Department of Conservation, two botanical gardens, and two Universities. 

Both workshops provided a valuable and expedient opportunity to provide the basis for the collaborative science teams that will be needed to face the myrtle rust challenge. 

At the recent workshop scientists ‘brain-stormed’ ideas for an optimised science response, then prioritised these in light of New Zealand imperatives.  From this high level plans were developed for priority research programmes across the biosecurity continuum.  The needs identified included: learning about the disease expression in Hawaii, South Africa,  and Australia, estimating the potential impact across plant systems, surveillance frameworks, understanding pathways of spread, sequencing the pathogen and its hosts’ genomes, developing management options including host plant resistance and banking of seeds or germplasm to preserve genetic diversity.  

These priority research needs have since been forwarded to MPI to be considered as part of the overall New Zealand response to the myrtle rust incursion.  Dr Veronica Herrera (MPI Director Diagnostic and Surveillance Services) noted that the workshop was “an excellent example of how the scientific community can come together to address problems of large significance to New Zealand”.

While input from the science community will play a critical role for the ongoing response to the New Zealand myrtle rust event, it was widely recognised that other considerations from the broader New Zealand community, including iwi, need to be understood and acted upon.


For the latest updates on the myrtle rust incursion see http://www.mpi.govt.nz/protection-and-response/responding/alerts/myrtle-rust.

Contact:  David [dot] Teulon [at] plantandfood [dot] co [dot] nz