Beyond Myrtle Rust is a $13 million, five-year collaborative research programme into the behaviour, ecology and impacts of the disease in New Zealand.
Led by Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research, the Beyond Myrtle Rust research programme is supported by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment's Endeavour Fund. It will run from 2018-2023, involving researchers and iwi from across Aotearoa. It also draws on expertise in Australia.
BMR has four interlinking research areas: pathogen dynamics; ecosystem impacts; novel mitigation techniques; kaitiakitanga & Māori-led solutions. This research picks up aspects of research completed in mid-2019 as part of the $3.7 million MPI-funded research programme.
Key Goal: Improve understanding of myrtle rust reproduction in New Zealand
This research aim focusses on understanding the behaviour of myrtle rust in its early invasion stages. Researchers will utilise the latest genetic tools to monitor how the disease evolves as it spreads across study sites.
This fungus can reproduce and spread both clonally and via sexual reproduction. Understanding sexual reproduction in myrtle rust is important because it could be a way in which the pathogen widens its host range and starts to infect new plant species.
Sexual reproduction may also facilitate adaption to new climates, so a key goal of this project is to improve understanding of myrtle rust sexual reproduction in New Zealand. Infected plant host symptoms will also be monitored. Read more.
Researchers will conduct both greenhouse and field studies.
Key Goal: Investigate broad-scale impacts of myrtle ruston ecosystem functions
Once myrtle rust establishes at a site, it will likely have impacts beyond host plant disease and death. For example, other microorganisms (e.g. bacteria and fungi) are likely to be impacted.
Some microorganisms may reduce in abundance while others may increase, and this in turn can have impacts on plant health.
It is important to understand whether plants with certain features (traits), such as large vs small leaves, are likely to be impacted differently.
Combined, changes in plant features and the microbial community could lead to changes in ecosystem functions, such as water fluxes into and out of the ecosystem, carbon storage in soils, and nutrient movements through landscapes.
Researchers aim to develop a holistic understanding of the pathogen, host, and ecosystem changes, which will enable the best possible management approaches to be developed.
This research project will use several study sites in the North Island.
Key Goal: Investigate natural plant and community resistance to myrtle rust
BMR says the most successful and socially acceptable ways to protect our trees from myrtle rust will utilise natural ecosystem properties. To this end, researchers will investigate natural resistance against the disease in two ways:
Mānuka is an important species in Aotearoa ecosystems – often being the first to establish in a newly developing forest and frequently used in restoration projects. It also forms the basis of New Zealand’s multi-million-dollar mānuka honey industry.
Because of these properties it makes an ideal model host to study the natural genetic resistance our native flora might have to myrtle rust.
Researchers will use genetic techniques to understand the interaction between plant and pathogen, as well as researching which mānuka gene lines are more resistant to myrtle rust.
Microorganisms (predominantly fungi) living in and around trees might be able to help them fight off the myrtle rust pathogen. Our team will study these organisms, with a particular focus on those living in the leaves.
Selected organisms will be studied with the long-term goal being to understand how plant defence is enhanced, and to develop a microbial product which could be applied to plants to give them a hand in the fight against myrtle rust.
This work will have a focus on working with Māori partners, linking strongly to Kaitiakitanga & Māori-led solutions.
Grant Smith, Plant and Food Research
Key Goal: Build capacity and develop strategies to facilitate Māori leadership around myrtle rust management
This project will work closely with iwi and hapū in the Northland, Auckland and Taranaki regions using kaupapa Māori (Māori methodology).
Initially the team will develop a framework to assess the impacts of myrtle rust on Te Ao Māori (the Māori world) and to prioritise disease management actions.
We will then develop protocols that support Māori-led methods to boost ecosystem resilience, while advancing research synergies between western science and indigenous knowledge systems.
We will expand international knowledge-sharing on indigenous myrtle rust responses by convening a workshop towards the end of the project.
Alby Marsh, Plant and Food Research
Microbiologist Hayley Ridgway is investigating the epiphytic microbe communities living on myrtle species, and their role in the spread of myrtle rust. Read more here
A recently published paper details research into predicting refugia for myrtle species, where they can grow without the risk of myrtle rust infection. Read more here
Of the studies being conducted under the Ecosystem Impacts research area of the Beyond Myrtle Rust programme, one section is dedicated entirely to getting a deeper understanding of New Zealand’s myrtles.
Dr Insu Jo, a forest ecologist at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, tells us all about it. Read more here
These Beyond Myrtle Rust webinars will be of particular interest to those in the local and international myrtle rust research community and anyone with an interest in the disease. Read more Webinar series » Manaaki Whenua (landcareresearch.co.nz)
Visit the Beyond Myrtle Rust pages on the Manaaki Whenua -Landcare Research website for more information or contact Renee Johansen, BMR Project Management & Communication Coordinator.