Scientists identify global ‘game-changers’ for biosecurity

Aura. Credit: Patro

We need to prepare for more incursions of pests, diseases and weeds that are being driven by our rapidly transforming world, scientists have cautioned in a recent study.

New Zealanders are already aware of the immediate risks that diseases like myrtle rust pose for our farmed and natural environments, but these problems will become more complex over the next 20 years explains study co-author Professor Philip Hulme from the Bio-Protection Research Centre at Lincoln University.

Professor Hulme is part of a group of international experts who have proposed 14 major issues that will shape the way we protect our borders in the coming decades.

“No one can predict the future, but our study has identified important biosecurity issues that we believe need to be considered carefully by scientists and policymakers,” Professor Hulme explains. Among these issues are globalisation, new biotechnologies, environmental change and political instability, which can all help pest species to spread.

While some issues identified by the study may seem quite distant from our concerns in New Zealand, such as the impact of globalisation on the Arctic, others are much closer to home.

“We will see more emerging pathogens, like myrtle rust and kauri dieback, hit our shores,” continues Professor Hulme. “We also face the risk that some pests and weeds in New Zealand today may evolve to become more intractable problems in the future.”

Genetic technologies are a promising solution for pest control, and may be used to reach New Zealand’s predator-free goals. But these technologies can have a downside and using them to modify crops to protect against pests could create new environmental weeds.

Even using beneficial microbes to boost crop production could present a risk to the environment if they encourage the spread of invasive species.

Other challenges for biosecurity include the increasing public resistance to poisons and pesticides, social movements seeking to live with pests and diseases rather than eradicate them, and conflicts between sectors of society that differ in the benefits they gain from introduced species.

As New Zealand develops strategies towards Biosecurity 2025 it seems essential that we scan the horizon to ensure we are prepared for the challenging future beyond.

Riccciardi et al (2017). Invasion science: A horizon scan of emerging challenges and opportunities Trends in Ecology & Evolution 32: 464–474

About the Bio-Protection Research Centre

The Bio-Protection Research Centre is a Centre of Research Excellence funded by the New Zealand Government. It was established in 2003 to drive innovation in sustainable approaches to pest, disease and weed control. The Centre has six partner institutes: AgResearch, Lincoln University, Massey University, Plant & Food Research, Scion and the University of Canterbury, with members throughout New Zealand.