In the past, there has been a disconnect and little collaboration across the people doing work on myrtle rust and kauri dieback. Despite the national significance of these pathogens, scientists, environmental managers and kaitiaki lack the means to obtain current information on pathogen distributions.

Dr Dean Anderson, Waitangi Wood and Dr Audrey Lustig are a part of the team behind Ngā Rākau Taketake’s Integrated Surveillance theme, which aims to develop surveillance system across all groups involved in this research, facilitating collaboration, cooperation and communication among them. 

“We want the ability for anybody working in this space to gain updated and accurate data on where the disease may be.” Dean says. 

The team’s work is divided into three main areas of research – the first is to develop a Mātauranga Māori based framework for surveillance. 

“The idea here is to establish this novel surveillance system that at its very foundation is hapū based. If we can establish that, in a system that gives Māori confidence that their data sovereignty will be protected, then we should be able to bring in all these other agencies and groups into the surveillance system so that they can benefit as well.” Such groups include MPI, DOC, councils, CRIs and universities.  

The second goal is the creation of an integrated intelligence platform, so data can be easily accessed and contributed to. “This platform will ensure that any sensitive data issues are recognized and all data sovereignty issues are protected.” 

Also on the list is the development of an online ‘proof of absence’ tool – a statistical tool which uses surveillance data from areas where disease hasn’t been detected to quantify the probability of its absence given it hasn’t been detected.  

“Of course, if you do some surveillance and don’t find disease, that doesn’t mean it’s not there” says Dean. “This tool will interact with the integrated intelligence platform, so it can access up-to-date data and interested parties can query their area of interest to get current estimates of the probability of absence in their area given no detections by surveillance.” 

The output of this tool will include spatial maps of where the disease is known to be and how bad the infection is. In areas where it is not known whether disease is present or absent, the tool can calculate the likelihood of it being there based on the level of risk and the amount of surveillance being done. 

Currently the team is collaborating with software developer Sharmila Savarimuthu of the Geospatial Research Institute at the University of Canterbury, who has a background in web development with experience in handling special data, to develop the interface for the proof of absence tool.  

“We hope to have some prototypes ready by June that users can interact with” says Audrey. These will function as a first draft, with feedback taken on board for further development. 

Collaboration is also taking place with Dr Michael Martin from the University of Auckland, who brings along a background in geospatial development. A postdoc is currently being recruited to undertake work focused on “protecting data sovereignty by respecting wishes that Māori have when it comes to collecting, saving and using data that are related to taonga.”   

Other collaboration within the Integrated Surveillance theme includes that with Nari Williams and Ian Horner at Plant and Food Research. This involves on the ground research to quantify the risk of movement of kauri dieback, and the factors that influence how it moves, which will feed into the predictions of risk needed for the proof of absence tool. 

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