The team in Lisbon

After our lengthy isolation due to Covid-19, our researchers have finally been able to travel overseas to connect with their international colleagues. Many plant diseases, such as myrtle rust, are being studied by research teams all around the world, so in-person hui can help us overcome roadblocks and catalyse progress.

Myrtle rust is the most devastating plant disease we’ve ever seen. This is based on the number of localised and functional plant extinctions it has caused. The only other pathogen that competes with this is Phytophthora cinnamomi. It has and is causing a huge number of plant extinctions in Western Australia but doesn’t cause the same devastation globally.

Beccy Ganley (Plant & Food Research)

As part of the IUFRO organising committee and as the Ngā Rākau Taketake science lead, Beccy joined the international network of forest scientists in Lisbon, Portugal. The aim of IUFRO is to promote global cooperation in forest-related research, so the effect of the pandemic myrtle rust was relevant to many delegates.

Australia has recently released a moving video that demonstrates the devastating impact myrtle rust is having across the Tasman – with similar cultural, social and ecological themes as we are seeing in Aotearoa.

From left: Nicolas Meurisse (Scion), James McCarthy (Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research), Brendan Gauld (New Zealand Forest Owners Association), Beccy Ganley (Plant & Food Research), Stewart Fraser (Scion) and Alby Marsh (Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research). Image thanks to Denita Hadziabdic Guerry.

The IUFRO conference was also attended by researchers from Scion, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and the New Zealand Forest Owners Association.

Alby Marsh (Plant & Food Research), who leads research in Ngā Rākau Taketake and Beyond Myrtle Rust, went from Portugal to the UK to attend the International Plant Health conference in late September. He was part of a panel that discussed international partnerships to address global challenges. 

At the same conference we had a strong BioHeritage presence at the panel titled ‘Whose voice counts? Co-designing a biosecure future for positive plant health’: participants included Norman Dandy (Bangor University) and Mariella Marzano (Forest Research), who are members of our International Science Advisory Panel, and Melanie Mark-Shadbolt (Te Tira Whakamātaki), co-lead of Oranga research theme.

Other sessions of interest at the International Plant Health conference included topics such as ‘Climate change and the impacts on plant health’ and ‘Soil health, the soil microbiome and plant health’. There is active research within New Zealand about how climate change may facilitate the spread and intensity of myrtle rust infection, as well as how microbes, whether in the soil or in/on the plants themselves, may boost plant health and help them fight disease.  

Being able to rejoin the international conference scene in person allows our researchers to be more connected to global issues facing the health of our plants. It allows them to foster new relationships, new ideas and better health outcome for our plants in general and our Myrtaceae in particular.  

We are excited that the next Phytophthora IUFRO conference will be held in Aotearoa in 2024. This will give our researchers the chance to showcase the growing impact of diseases caused by Phytophthora in our country and facilitate new partnerships with scientists who might be able to help us protect our ngahere. 

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