Our validation work has shown that approximately half of the 108 available specimens of Verticillium from New Zealand, about half of the 96 specimens of Fusarium, and about a quarter of the 268 specimens of Phoma had been misidentified. We found that eight species of plant pathogens, previously thought to be present in New Zealand in fact do not occur here. The previous incorrect records could have resulted in material being released at the border that contained species that would have brought new plant diseases to New Zealand.
As a further example, our work also recently enabled the accurate isolation and identification of fungi associated with grapevine trunk diseases that are already present in New Zealand.
Another consequence of using DNA sequencing to identify specimens is that non-experts in fungal morphology can identify many more species; for example, from ecological studies. A recent survey of fungi associated with the aggressive, unpalatable pasture weed giant buttercup (Ranunculus acris) in New Zealand found that from 140 specimens sequenced, 22 represented species never before reported as present in New Zealand.
Basic presence/absence data such as these are central to the management of biosecurity risks to New Zealand – and our fungal taxonomists are in the vanguard of this work.