PBRI members met on 2 June to hear about research focused on ‘over the horizon’ biosecurity threats, a high priority area for the members.

The purpose was to better understand what our next plant biosecurity threats might be, based on current research and operational activity. Knowledge of the pest pressure at our borders, or in near neighbouring regions, will help to inform RD&E investment decisions to minimise any damaging consequences of a new pest arriving.

Dr Gabrielle Vivian Smith, Australia’s Chief Plant Protection Officer, introduced the workshop topic describing the increasing pest pressure at our borders. She presented Commonwealth Biosecurity 2030, the strategic roadmap which aims to increase offshore intelligence, research and data analytics and smart technology to cope with the unexpected threats.

Dr Darren Peck, Director, NAQS Plant and Animal Surveillance, described biosecurity in northern Australia, with islands in the Torres strait providing potential pathways for new pests from the north. Risks are changing due to pest pressure increasing at the border, increased industry development in the north and climate change. Community and industry engagement will be key to future NAQS activities.

Dr Richard Bradhurst, CEBRA Research Fellow, described the animal spread model AADIS, used to simulate and visualise an animal virus introduction. He also demonstrated the plant model APPDIS, using tramp ant and exotic fruit flies as case studies. The models can be used to test policy and management options for pests that may be introduced on natural or human-mediated pathways.

Dr Julie Soewarto, Forest Pathologist, B3 and Scion Research NZ, outlined a new project identifying pre-border biosecurity threats to New Zealand through Maori and Pacific collaboration. This research involved understanding the co-occurring plant species and has identified 78 pathogens that may present a risk to New Zealand.

Dr Craig Phillips, Senior Scientist, B3 and AgResearch NZ, presented a project on automating pest risk analyses using insect records on forage crops. Hazards were ranked by the attributes they share with non-native insects already established in NZ. Hazard scores for biosecurity risks to forage crops included a risk assessment of 1857 insects. There is potential to reduce PRA cost, and increase transparency and reproducibility.

Professor Michael Springborn, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, UC Davis, spoke about the risks posed by unregulated online retail and described research using the ‘nudge principle’ to investigate consumer choice and decision based on biosecurity risks.

Dr Brian Garms, DAWE, presented data on hitchhiking insects found on sea cargo which pose a risk to Australian agriculture. He found that overwintering pests such as ants, spiders, sting bugs and snails that are able to survive on inanimate material had several common characteristics. Also there were key characteristics of the type of shipped goods that make them suitable vectors for these pests.

Dr Fiona Constable, Senior Research Scientist, Agriculture Victoria, described her work that was supported by DAWE on the risks identified in the international trade of seed, in particular relating to the introduction of new viruses. These research results led to adjustment of policy relating to seed importation, specifically the increased testing at the border for plant viruses.

The final speaker was Professor Mike Furlong, School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland. Mike presented a large program of work supported by ACIAR, including the establishment of plant health clinics in the Pacific. He also outlined work underway on fall armyworm trapping in PNG and Fiji and biocontrol of Asian citrus psyllid.

Growing resistance to a biocontrol virus, used to manage the coconut rhinoceros beetle, has been reported in the Pacific. Of concern is the beetle’s rapid march from the South Pacific across to Guam and Hawaii to Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Solomon Islands. The beetle’s move through PNG has been rapid with large-scale coconut plantations and oil palm plantations being destroyed. Australia’s sugar, pineapple, mango, and coconut oil industries are now threatened by the beetle, as the populations are growing on Australia’s doorstep.