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Survey partnership confirms killer pathogen

Thursday 6 September, 2012

A recent survey has confirmed the presence of the pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi at the Grampians National Park. The survey was undertaken through a new partnership between Parks Victoria and Deakin University. The survey was funded by the Victorian State Government’s Flood Recovery Program and the results will be incorporated into management plans to reduce the impact of the pathogen.

Phytophthora cinnamomi is a soil borne pathogen that slowly kills susceptible plant species by restricting their access to nutrients. Once infested, plants display a loss of colour, yellowing foliage, a decline in health and eventually plant death.

Dr James Rookes from Deakin University said laboratory testing determined the presence of Phytophthora cinnamomi.

“Sampling has confirmed the presence of P. cinnamomi in the Grampians and Wilsons Promontory national parks,” said Dr Rookes. “This monitoring protocol can be used to measure rates of spread of P. cinnamomi and to test for presence of P. cinnamomi in previously untested sites.”

David Roberts, Ranger in Charge for Grampians National Park said while the results were disappointing, areas of land affected by flood were more vulnerable to infestation of pest plants, animals and infectious agents.

“Flood recovery is a complex process that extends past rebuilding tracks and bridges,” Mr Roberts said. “It does take its toll on the environment and we need to factor that into our management.”

Mr Roberts said the Grampians was hit hard by the flood and is vulnerable to pests, establishing a foothold in the fragile and unstable ecosystem.

“We now need to take the necessary steps to contain it, which include cleaning vehicles, footwear, tools and machinery when going in and out of the affected areas.”

“Like many elements in conservation there are no quick fixes or remedies to the flood impact on our National Parks and reserves. The partnership with Deakin University will help us adapt our practices to new scientific knowledge and help us work through these challenges”.

Brendan Smith, Flood Recovery Invasive Species Officer for Parks Victoria, said “The survey involved field based root sampling and also established guidelines and protocols for the ongoing monitoring of the pathogen for years to come here and throughout Victoria’s national and state parks.”

Background information

Phytophthora cinnamomi is a soil borne pathogen that attacks susceptible species of plants. P.cinnamomi spores attach to the fine roots of these plants and the pathogen spreads through the roots, blocking the flow of water and nutrients to eventually cause death. It will affect numerous plants in an area, often multiple species and a whole area can be impacted. On this scale the term “dieback” is used to describe the effects of P. cinnamomi.

Once introduced, P. cinnamomi cannot be eradicated, the only control option is containment through hygiene controls such as cleaning vehicles and machinery, cleaning footwear, restricting movement in an area and even closing infested areas to all access. Signage is often used to pass the message on to park visitors.

P. cinnamomi spores move through soil. During ten years of drought soil moisture decreased and this slows the movement of the pathogen - perhaps only a few metres per year. Since the floods of 2010-11, soil moisture has increased allowing more rapid movement of P. cinnamomi. Parks Victoria and its partner organisation Deakin University are interested in discovering more about P. cinnamomi movement in the post flood environment.

In botany, chlorosis is a condition in which leaves do not produce sufficient chlorophyll. As chlorophyll is responsible for the green colour of leaves, chlorotic leaves are pale, yellow, or yellowwhite. The affected plant has little or no ability to manufacture carbohydrates through photosynthesis and may die unless the cause of its chlorophyll insufficiency is treated.

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