health & science

Kauri funding boost could fall short

A boost of $13.75 million will help fund research into saving taonga species at risk from kauri dieback and myrtle rust.

However scientists warn the funding might not be enough to “solve everything” for diseases where little is known.

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods announced yesterday the funding would be delivered through the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge over three years.

“These pathogens are endangering some of our most iconic and culturally significant trees. Trees that are critical to our biological heritage and our cultural identity.”

Kauri are now listed as a threatened species. Once a kauri is infected with the disease there is no cure.

It is the second time this year more funding has been announced to combat a biosecurity risk. In May the government announced it would attempt to eradicate the bovine disease Mycoplasma bovis. The total expected cost of eradication was $889m, with taxpayers supplying $591m in compensation.

Woods said the funding for kauri dieback and myrtle rust would assist in three areas.

“It will enhance our ability to breed resistant species by improving our understanding of plant resistance to myrtle rust and kauri dieback. It will enable control and surveillance tools to be developed and tested and the impacts on ecosystems to be better understood.”

The funding will be split between the two diseases with work on myrtle rust receiving $5m and kauri dieback $8.75m.

“The only tool we have at present is interim forest closures in conjunction with pest management.”

Dr Nick Waipara of Plant & Food Research will lead a team developing a strategy for research.

His excitement at the new funding comes with caveats.

“It’s not a huge, huge programme. Research is quite expensive. It’s not going to solve everything we need to know about kauri dieback.”

Waipara listed research priorities as including ways to detect the pathogen in soil before it reached kauri, as well as understanding whether it was present in waterways.

He said there were also signs the disease may affect species other than kauri.

“Obviously the kauri is the canary in the coal mine,” said Waipara.

Post-graduate student work has shown the pathogen affects tanekaha and could infect pinus radiata. These other species of trees could be susceptible to the rust, either as a potential victim of it, or as a carrier.

“There could be a plethora of hosts. That doesn’t mean just because it’s in those plants it necessarily causes diseases in those plants. Those plants that may not show symptoms can be invisible carriers.”

While there isn't a clear picture yet how big the problem is, the funding is low but additional. Together this adds up to $11.9m in research funding for myrtle rust and $13.5m for kauri dieback.

In comparison the painted apple moth cost over $113m to eradicate and $40.2m was spent responding to the Psa bacterium which affected kiwifruit. Fourteen Queensland fruit flies cost $15.7m to eradicate.

Lincoln University’s Dr Amanda Black said the funding boost was a “step in the right direction” but warns it isn’t a huge amount of money.

She compared it to developing an agrichemical which takes on average 11 years and costs $268m.

“The situation facing kauri in particular is dire and we lack fundamental knowledge about the pathogen’s biology, its whereabouts in the landscape and tools to manage the disease.

“The only tool we have at present is interim forest closures in conjunction with pest management.”

Read more: 

Seed banking no lifeline for kauri

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