The recent Myrtle Rust Science Symposium discussed solutions to battle the invasive rust disease which is attacking iconic species such as pōhutukawa and ramarama, and heard how myrtle rust has wiped out species from some areas across the Tasman.
Almost 100 delegates attended the 2-day symposium in Auckland, which was organised by Biosecurity New Zealand (part of the Ministry for Primary Industries – MPI), with support from the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Myrtle Rust Strategic Science Advisory Group (SSAG).
The event brought together scientists, central government, and representatives from groups working to combat myrtle rust on the ground, including councils, iwi, and the plant and honey sectors.
MPI’s science policy manager Naomi Parker says science will be key to fighting myrtle rust, which is now widely distributed across key parts of the North Island and in the north and west of the South Island. The disease, which is carried on the wind, has the potential to damage many ecologically, economically, and culturally significant native tree, shrub, and vine species, including pōhutukawa, mānuka, and non-natives such as feijoa.
“Speakers presented the findings of more than 20 research projects funded by Biosecurity New Zealand to better understand myrtle rust and limit its impact. These ranged from novel surveillance techniques such as unmanned aerial vehicles to scan the forest canopies for evidence of the disease, to the potential for microbes living in myrtles to inhibit the rust, and the importance of partnering with Māori in both the research and management of myrtle rust.”
Dr Parker says the research reports, which will be published on the Myrtle Rust in New Zealand website over the coming weeks, were identified as priorities by the SSAG, which recently released a science plan to guide research that will be most valuable for managing myrtle rust.
Ken Hughey, the SSAG chair and the Department of Conservation chief science advisor, says an important focus of the symposium was how the science could be used by groups on the ground working to manage the disease, including DOC, botanical gardens, nurseries, and the honey businesses.
“There is no silver bullet when it comes to myrtle rust, but the symposium was a fantastic opportunity to discuss progress and future priorities, and to strengthen the community of stakeholders who are committed to combating this disease.”
Reports from the public are also helping scientists track the spread of myrtle rust and discover new host species.