Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Myrtle rust never sleeps

Myrtle rust. Image © Ministry for Primary Industries

Myrtle rust. Image © Ministry for Primary Industries

Myrtle rust has never been eradicated from any country and there is only a narrow window of opportunity to reduce the disease’s impact on NZ forests – particularly our much-loved pōhutukawa, rātā, and mānuka. The New Zealand Fungarium and the work of the mycologists play a significant part in protecting our ecosystems, agricultural production and iconic biodiversity from the ravages of myrtle rust and other pathogens.

Under a changing climate, more plant pathogens (disease-causing organisms) are expected to establish here naturally, increasing the need for tools to reduce their impact on our environment and economy.  Manaaki Whenua has submitted a funding proposal to enable deeper research into the short- and long-term impacts of myrtle rust in New Zealand. This research would support and underpin the operational programmes at MPI, DOC and regional councils, and seek to apply new learnings to manage other plant pathogens, including in terms of how scientists, biosecurity managers, iwi and other landowners can work together to manage plant pathogen threats to New Zealand’s well-being.

Research is required to understand the nuances of this organism and how it will behave in New Zealand. While there is much to learn from overseas, the best approaches and tools to minimise the impacts of myrtle rust on New Zealand forests and natural landscapes need to be identified. In particular, this work will enable us to draw on traditional Māori knowledge and medicinal approaches in the development of tools. In the same way, HIV is managed to reduce the development of AIDs, this research aims to boost the resilience of NZ landscapes despite the presence of disease.

To respond the aspirations of Māori, industry and communities, new, targeted ways will be developed to reduce myrtle rust damage to vulnerable plants and landscapes, and future-proof them against other plant diseases.

The New Zealand Fungarium is a permanent collection that comprises dried specimens of fungi, lichens, myxomycetes, algae, bacteria, symptoms of plant disease, mosses and associated plant material. The information and specimens held in the Fungarium provide vital insights for operational responses as well as research into plant pathogens and New Zealand’s unique ecology.

Maj Padamsee, the curator of the fungarium is an expert on the evolution of New Zealand rust fungi (Pucciniales, Pucciniomycotina, Basidiomycota). The Pucciniales contain many important plant pathogens, such as myrtle rust.  New Zealand has approximately 250 species of rust fungi of which half are believed to be endemic. Maj uses molecular and morphological data to clarify rust fungal species concepts and study rust fungal biology.

The NZ Fungarium at Manaaki Whenua:

  • is the primary source of information on the fungi of New Zealand and Pacific countries
  • holds important historical collections dating back to 1850s
  • contains over 100,000 dried fungal specimens – and we add between 1,000 and 2,000 specimens every year.
  • contains voucher specimens for most plant diseases found in New Zealand
  • contains specimens of all the major groups of fungi.

The collection documents the mycobiota of New Zealand and the world (particularly the South Pacific) and provides material for systematic and ecological research on New Zealand’s biodiversity and biosecurity.  For instance we provide reference material for the identification of newly introduced species, border intercepts, and imported fungal material.