International capacity building
Landcare Research is the New Zealand partner in the Pacific-focused PACE-Net Plus programme (Pacific–Europe Network for Science, Technology and Innovation) funded by the European Commission. One of the programme’s key activities is to develop new collaborations and foster existing partnerships. In June 2014, we organised a ‘multiplier forum’ (supported by MBIE funding) that brought together researchers and research managers from New Zealand CRIs and universities, and representatives from the Pacific and Europe. Sir Peter Gluckman opened the forum. Future similar events will focus on specific issues in the areas of health, environment, agri/aqua-culture, climate change, and resource management.
Cook Islands biocontrol project
Smothering vines, such as balloon vine Cardiospermum grandiflorum, are killing trees and causing massive deforestation in Rarotonga’s forested catchments leading to increased soil erosion, siltation of waterways and reef damage. Biodiversity is also threatened – a recent IUCN evaluation of 19 endemic Red List plant species found one species was already extinct and nine species are critically endangered. Invasive vines are now establishing on the remote mountain peaks that have acted as refuges for these critically threatened endemics.
A 5-year biocontrol project is capitalising on successful biocontrol programmes developed elsewhere for five invasive weeds – which is a highly-cost-effective approach. Two new biocontrol programmes are underway, for African tulip tree and red passionfruit. The project is also tackling a number of invasive agricultural weeds, with a view to reducing herbicide use (e.g. paraquat) because contaminated runoff is threatening water resources and the fragile lagoon and reef environments. Most of the target weeds are invasive on other Pacific islands and there is considerable interest in expanding this project to other island countries.
The work is funded by the New Zealand Partnerships for International Development Fund (administered by MFAT). The main partners are the Cook Islands Ministry of Agriculture and the Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust. The project includes capacity building for local staff in how to rear, release and monitor weed biocontrol agents.