Myrtle rust, the silent killer

Friday 25 Nov 2022

This video introduces myrtle rust and its cultural, social and ecological effects on Australia's native environment. Indigenous rangers, scientists and landowners share their first-hand stories of this fungal disease and its impact on our precious species and landscapes. We learn about their efforts to bring species back from the brink of extinction and the value of protecting our unique ecosystems from biosecurity threats for generations to come.



Background:

• Myrtle rust, caused by the exotic fungus Austropuccinia psidii, is native to South America. It was first detected in Australia in April 2010 in NSW, spreading rapidly to other parts of Australia.

• The disease affects plant species in the family Myrtaceae and attacks new growth, with symptoms developing quickly on new shoots, and young leaves and stems.

• Myrtle rust is affecting more than 380 Australian species, with sixteen species predicted to become extinct within a generation and many more are in decline.

- Time is very short for some species that are severely impacted by Myrtle rust, but there are meaningful conservation actions that can still be taken.

Overarching message:

• Global interconnectedness is increasing the risk of a new threat to Australia’s irreplaceable biological heritage: exotic plant and animal diseases to which native Australian biota may have no adaptive resistance. Some of these diseases are broad-spectrum, affecting many native species.

• Myrtle rust is a new threat of this type. This plant disease, caused by an introduced fungal pathogen, affects plant species in the Myrtle family (Myrtaceae), which includes paperbarks, tea trees, eucalypts, and lillypillies. These are key, and often dominant, species in many Australian ecosystems.

- Our entire myrtaceous flora is largely ‘naive’ to rust-fungi pathogens. Naïve hosts do not have a coevolved disease resistance against myrtle rust

Supporting messages:

• The family Myrtaceae is hugely important in Australian ecosystems and is structurally and floristically dominant in most Australian ecosystems, contributing a high proportion to the plant biomass and diversity of the continent.

• Members of the Myrtaceae are critically important in providing habitat, shelter, breeding sites, and food sources for a wide range of insectivorous and vertebrate fauna, epiphytic flora, fungi (including lichens) and other micro-organisms.

• The disease affects trees of all sizes and ages - killing seedlings, saplings and even established, old trees. Infection of flowers and fruit prevents the regeneration of plants. Broader ecological consequences are expected from the disease.

• The impacts of myrtle rust on Indigenous Communities are broader than ecological and industry values. Country, Culture and Community are all connected, they are not separate.

• There are multiple strains of myrtle rust not yet present in Australia or Oceania, which may affect a broader range of hosts or be more aggressive on certain species than the pandemic strain.

• A National Action Plan for Myrtle Rust in Australia identifies the priority research and actions needed to tackle the environmental impacts of the pathogen.

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