African research sheds light on Queensland weed issue

A Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) research trip to Africa has unearthed possible biocontrol solutions to an aggressive weed affecting agriculture industries in Queensland’s wet tropics.

Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said Biosecurity Queensland Principal Entomologist Dr KunjithapathamDhileepan had been working with researchers from the National Herbarium of Tanzania, Kenya’s East African Herbarium and the University of Southern Queensland to identify possible biological control agents that could tackle Navua sedge.

“The three-week research trip to Tanzania and Kenya has identified one potential pathogen, Navua sedge flower smut pathogen, which has been sent to a research facility in the UK for further testing, and another two new pathogens that have been collected for further assessment,” Mr Furner said.

“Navua sedge, which grows in thickets and replaces palatable tropical pasture species, already affects more than 500 beef producers, dairy farmers, crop and hay producers in the Atherton Tableland region alone.

“Identifying these possible biocontrol agents is an exciting development as finding a natural enemy to Navua sedge will significantly help our agriculture industry in the wet tropics.”

Mr Furner said the research trip built on previous research trips to East Africa in mid-2018 and West Africa in mid-2019.

“Research conducted on previous trips identified three pathogens with potential as biocontrol agents,” Mr Furner said.

“There are now a number of prospective agents that need to be formally identified and checked to ensure that they are not pests on other plants.

“Biocontrol works best with a number of agents attacking different parts or life stages of the target weed and, as some agents might prove to be unsuitable for the task, exploring multiple options to control Navua sedge is crucial to achieving the desired outcome.”

Mr Furner said the discoveries had allowed DAF to successfully apply for Federal Government funding to conduct further tests into the pathogens’ suitability to control Navua sedge, although further testing and approvals would be needed before field testing could commence in Queensland.

“Funding through the Agrifutures program means at least one biocontrol agent can now be tested by experts in the UK,” Mr Furner said.

“If proven host specific, applications for release of the particular agents will be submitted to the Australian regulatory authorities for assessment.

“Finding a successful biocontrol option for Navua sedge will provide the agriculture industry with a cost effective and long-term management option to existing mechanical and chemical management options which are expensive and offer only short-term results.”

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