Fast Facts

Australian research supports NZ myrtle rust response

Myrtle rust, a devastating plant fungal disease, was detected for the first time on the New Zealand mainland in early May 2017.

The initial discovery was made at a plant nursery, and the disease has now been found at seventeen locations.

According to the Ministry for Primary Industries New Zealand, “The total number of affected properties nationally now stands at 17 in 3 regions – Northland, Taranaki and Waikato.”

A swift response has been undertaken by NZ government agencies to try and contain and eradicate. This has included an extensive public awareness campaign.

Myrtle rust could have a devastating impact in New Zealand. It may affect plant species of environmental, cultural and economic importance, such as pōhutukawa, mānuka, rātā, kānuka, swamp maire and ramarama, and commercial species such as eucalyptus, feijoa and guava.

In Australia, myrtle rust was detected for the first time in 2010 on the central coast of New South Wales.

With the wind-borne nature of the disease and the abundance of suitable plant hosts in the Australian environment, the disease spread rapidly and it is now considered established and widespread along the east coast of Australia.

It affects native plants in the Myrtaceae family, including eucalyptus, paper bark, bottle brush and tea tree.

A number of species are now at risk of becoming extinct with about 40 plant species considered highly susceptible.

Given the extent of myrtle rust in Australia, the Australian Plant Biosecurity CRC’s environmental research portfolio has focused on myrtle rust, looking at the impact on ecosystems, and to the lemon myrtle industry. The CRC’s projects include:

  • Managing myrtle rust and its impact in Australia
  • Epidemiology, impact and management of myrtle rust in lemon myrtle plantations
  • Ecological impacts of invasive fungus in Australian native plant communities

Given the experience in Australia, PBCRC project leaders and myrtle rust experts, Geoff Pegg (Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries) and Angus Carnegie (NSW Department of Primary Industries), are providing advice as part of a technical group to help New Zealand manage the response.

They also helped provide advice after the initial discovery on Raoul Island, 1,100 kilometres north-east of New Zealand’s North Island. Images of the range of symptoms seen in Australia are being used to help surveillance teams, and the general public, identify the disease.

Source: Plant Biosecurity CRC

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