The race against myrtle rust
New research, “Beyond Myrtle Rust, towards ecosystem resilience” will focus on boosting ecosystem resilience by running ground-level interference of myrtle rust.
NZ faces growing environmental, economic, and socio-cultural costs from invasive plant pathogens. With climate change, more plant pathogens will establish naturally, amplifying the need to mitigate disease impacts (c.f. pathogen eradication).
Plant pathogens fundamentally alter forest ecosystem function. As HIV is managed to reduce AIDs, so we aim to boost ecosystem resilience, despite disease presence. In a unique opportunity, we aim to run ground-level interference of myrtle rust (MR), an emergent, high-impact pathogen in NZ. In a globally novel approach, our multidisciplinary team will use MR as a test-case to integrate insights from ecological monitoring/modelling, mātauranga Māori, genomics, nano-technology, and biocontrol to influence MR’s disease trajectory.
Through four interlinked, synergistic research aims we propose to:
- accelerate understanding of pathogen dynamics, key to interpreting underlying drivers of impact,
- improve prediction of complex pathogen impacts on ecosystem function, with a view to ‘engineering’ resilience in diseased ecosystems,
- develop novel, socially acceptable MR mitigation technologies, including rongoā Māori-based tools,
- enhance kaitiakitanga within MR-affected landscapes.
Through proactive engagement and an open-source approach, we will optimise on-the-ground adoption by biosecurity and conservation managers, landowners, industry, Māori, and communities.
As a ‘backbone’ of longer-term research, our programme will align with shorter-term MR research through an adaptive management approach, transferring learnings/practice across a ‘virtual hub’ of research, biosecurity, conservation, industry and Māori partners, including potential application to other plant pathogens. Our programme will increase NZ’s plant pathogen science capability and develop tomorrow’s science leaders.
By focusing on critical gaps that stymie current efforts to manage MR, our research responds to multiple research signals (national MR research priorities, Research Roadmaps, Vision Mātauranga, BioHeritage NSC, Biosecurity 2025’s ‘toolbox for tomorrow’ and ‘tomorrow’s skills’).