Science key to the national myrtle rust incursion response
Myrtle rust is a plant pathogen that can devastate pōhutukawa, rātā, mānuka, kānuka and other native trees. New Zealand is particularly at risk from this disease, as trees in the myrtle family are highly represented in our forests. Not only can the disease affect the environmental values of our forested landscapes, but it potentially has economic implications for New Zealand’s high-value honey industry.
Manaaki Whenua has been involved in a number of ways to support the national response to the myrtle rust incursion. We assembled distribution data (75,000 records) on native myrtle species from our Nationally Significant Databases and summarised their contribution to ecosystem diversity and carbon storage (sequestration). Mapping where tree species may be susceptible to the disease, and areas where the disease is expected to have the highest impact, is key to any national incursion response.
Both the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Ministry for Primary Industries are using our preliminary maps to assess risk and identify best management options. DOC has also used our research to assess where native honey eaters (such as bellbirds and tūī) are likely to be most affected by myrtle loss – a key consideration given that food availability is critical to species conservation and recovery.