Myrtle rust has potential to cause regional extinction of iconic animals, experts say
Updated about an hour ago Sat 4 Jun 2016, 1:23pm
There are calls for a national plan to fight a fungal disease which is destroying native trees and, according to experts, has the potential to cause regional extinction of iconic Australian animals.
Myrtle rust has rapidly spread since it was first detected in 2010, killing Myrtaceae trees, such as eucalyptus, bottlebrush, paperbark, and lilly-pillies.
It grows in shoots, fruits and flowers, destroying the food relied on by some native animals.
There is no hope of eradication, with a major national biosecurity research group instead wanting funding and a national plan to protect nurseries and the $20 billion forestry industry.
“This will threaten some of our iconic native species and there is the strong possibility that some of these species will go extinct,” chief executive of Plant Biosecurity Centre for Collaborative Research Dr Michael Robinson said.
“We’ve been scrambling to understand more about it.
“How do we reduce the risk of further strains coming in?”
The fungus, which originated in South America, produces a large number of yellow spores which have the potential to be dispersed by wind or the movement of animals and humans.
Since it was first found in Northern New South Wales six years ago, it has reached Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland, and the Northern Territory.
Now it is moving inland.
Flying foxes, lorikeets, honey eaters ‘at risk’
Queensland University of Technology ecologist Dr Grant Hamilton is studying the fungus to predict its impact on the environment and which animals are likely to suffer.
The researchers believe some species of flying foxes, lorikeets and honey eaters could be at risk and say their loss could have devastating flow-on effects.
“Our hypothesis is that once we see those impacts of myrtle rust over time we’re going to see reductions in biodiversity,” he said.
“You might get these regional extinctions of animals that depend so heavily on these resources but cannot move.
“We really didn’t understand just how rapidly it was going to expand.”
The researchers have recorded the sound of local wildlife for six-hours-a-day, at 11 sites between Ballina in New South Wales and Caloundra in Queensland. At the same time they have recorded the extent of myrtle rust using hand-held cameras and drones.
Now they are comparing animal activity in each area with the presence of the fungus to determine if there has been an impact.
Researcher Nadine Nolan said it would take six to eight months to get a final outcome from the research.
“The results are kind of indicating that there is an impact, but to what degree we don’t yet know,” she said.