Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Diagnostic tools for national biosecurity

What is the problem?

The ability to quickly and accurately identify species is critical for the Ministry for Primary Industries and regional councils to evaluate and respond to biosecurity threats to New Zealand’s agriculture, environment and economy. Threats include insect pests such as fruit flies, plant pathogenic fungi and bacteria, and plants likely to become weeds. The presence of pests in New Zealand poses a threat to accessing overseas markets.

How did we approach resolving the problem?

Landcare Research’s systematists have developed a range of diagnostic tools to enable the rapid and accurate identification of intercepted organisms. Recently developed diagnostic tools include interactive identification keys on New Zealand grasses, weeds, weedy daisies of the South Pacific, mosquitoes and Hymenoptera (a large order of insects). There are also online floras and faunas, fact-sheets, image galleries and electronic keys for species identification, DNA databases, and geographic distribution maps.

Essential to the preparation of these diagnostic tools is Landcare Research’s detailed taxonomic knowledge of the New Zealand biota and of related overseas species, particularly known insects, weeds and diseases.

Who has adopted our innovation?

Landcare Research’s tools for accurate and rapid identification are used by MPI, DOC, and regional council biosecurity managers, and by other scientists such as plant pathology researchers. They also utilise various interactive identification tools. For example, the weeds key is now routinely used by regional council biosecurity officers to identify banned garden plants at nursery inspections.

What impact has this innovation had on adopters?

The cost of surveillance is high, but the cost of pests establishing here is even higher and Landcare Research’s taxonomic expertise and the tools are a low-cost insurance policy.

Accurate identification is needed because the name of an organism is the key to accessing the accumulated knowledge on that organism. It is this knowledge, on the kinds of diseases caused, rate of spread, and possibility of control, that allows a rational decision to be made about the risk. Agencies can decide whether or not an effort should be made to eradicate the new organism or to manage it in some other way; for example, the introduction of the PSA bacterium to New Zealand, which is threatening the kiwifruit industry. Effective surveillance requires rapid, accurate and reliable identification of specimens that might represent new pests. Our knowledge and tools contribute to that.


Cannon PF, Damm U, Johnston PR Weir BS in press. Colletotrichum – current status and future directions. Studies in Mycology 73.
Damm U, Cannon PF, Woudenberg JHC, Johnston PR, Weir BS, Tan YP, Shivas RG, Crous PW 2012. The Colletotrichum boninense species complex. Studies in Mycology 73: 1–36.
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Weir BS, Johnston PR, Damm U in press. The Colletotrichum gleoesporioides species complex. Studies in Mycology 73.