Past, present and future – reflections on the XV International Symposium on Biological Control of Weeds

xv-isbcw-2018.jpgInvasive alien weed species have been a global environmental and human health issue for decades. In 1969, CABI organised the first International Symposium on Biological Control of Weeds (ISBCW) in Delémont, Switzerland. Weed biocontrol research was then in its early stages and 20 scientists attended.

Almost 50 years on, the 15th ISBCW, co-organised by CABI and the University of Fribourg, returned to Switzerland, in the picturesque Alpine village of Engelberg from 26-31 August 2018. This time around 200 scientists, representing over 100 organisations from 25 countries, attended which highlights the positive development of weed biocontrol research  since then. Countries represented included the USA, South Africa, Australia, China, Switzerland and New Zealand.

The location of the event provided a valuable opportunity to shine a spotlight on weed biocontrol in Europe where more political and research support is needed. The cost of invasive species for Europe are estimated to cost around 12 billion Euros each year and weeds are a significant contributor.

Although biological control of weeds has been practiced for over 100 years worldwide, it is still a much neglected tool in managing alien invasive weeds in Europe, partly due to misconceptions about its safety, and partly due to a lack of regulations. Only a few biocontrol agents have been released so far to tackle invasive weeds in Europe, targeting species such as Japanese knotweed and Himalayan Balsam.

crassula_pondApproval has just been given for the release of a biological control agent in England to control swamp stonecrop (Crassula helmsii), a damaging aquatic invasive plant.

At the five day symposium a total of 10 keynotes, 81 oral presentations and 105 posters were presented with good representation from CABI. In addition, five workshops ran over three evenings covering:

  1. Biological control of grasses,
  2. Arts and science of native range explorations,
  3. Implications of weed biotypic variation for biocontrol programmes using fungal pathogens,
  4. Taking biological control to our communities, and
  5. The Nagoya Protocol and implications for classical weed biological control.

A panel discussion was also held on the extent of invasive plant problems in Europe and how to tackle the problem, highlighting the importance and potential of weed biological control.

George Heimpel, current President of the International Organisation for Biological Control, IOBC, gave a presentation about the organisations work and the possibility for forming a Global Working Group for Classical Biological Control of Weeds under the umbrella of IOBC. A preliminary vote on the establishment of the group was positive. An online survey will follow for people unable to attend the Symposium to also have their say. It was proposed that the next four years should act as an engagement period until the next ISBCW, when a formal group could be established.

It was also agreed that the online version of the Weeds catalogue should be kept updated as it provides an important resource for the biological control community.  Several organisations offered their financial support for the catalogue, namely, the University of Idaho, CSIRO, the Centre for Biological Control, South Africa and Landcare Research, New Zealand.

In summary, the varied and interesting contributions from scientists highlighted the constant search for new, innovative methods to advance the discipline, be it scientifically or through greater outreach. The increasing bureaucracy around the regulations for access and benefit sharing have put pressure on weed biological control, however the scientific community understands there is no quick fix and only through collaboration can such hurdles be overcome.

A diverse range of people attended the conference with a balance of nationalities, ages and genders represented – a sign of the discipline’s increasing popularity attracting young driven scientists with high aspirations. The overall feeling among attendees was one of optimism for the future of weed biological control in Europe and that this approach will be considered a valuable asset in the toolkit for the management of invasive weeds. The future of weed biocontrol looks bright!

Looking forwards to the 16th ISBCW, two groups, representing Argentina and Brazil, and Landcare, New Zealand, pitched for hosting the next symposium. The decision was taken for Puerto Iguazú, Misiones Province, Argentina, to host in May 2022, to be co-organised by FuEDEI (Fundación Para El Estudio Ee Especies Invasivas) in Argentina, and by the Universidade Regional de Blumenau and the Universidad Federal do Vicosa in Brazil.

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