Could invasive plant management prevent the spread of malaria?

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CABI scientists have joined an international team of experts who suggest that the large-scale management of a range of some invasive plants could hold the key to reducing the spread of deadly malaria.

Dr Arne Witt and Dr Sean Murphy worked with scientists from the University of Illinois, The Ohio State University and the Fundación para el Estudio de Especies Invasivas (FuEDEI) in Argentina, to conduct a review of existing studies which looked at how mosquitoes are attracted to both land and water-based invasive plants such as water hyacinth, floating pennywort and prosopis and how best these invasive plants can be managed.

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Using roundworms to manage the Tomato Leaf Miner

Tuta absoluta  (tomato leafminer) larval damage on tomato (Lycop
The tomato leaf miner, Tuta absoluta

Research recently published in the Journal of Economic Entomology has offered new insight into managing the tomato leaf miner (Tuta absoluta) using entomopathogenic nematodes (EPN). If the pest is not adequately managed, it can cause up to 100% crop loss in both field and green-house grown tomatoes. Also causing further concern is the increasing insecticide resistance the pest has shown to be developing.

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Enlisting microbes to enhance Himalayan balsam biocontrol

Bee on Himalayan balsam
Himalayan balsam flower drawing bee pollinators away from native flowers

Building on CABI research into the biological control of Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) using a rust fungus (Puccinia komarovii var. glanduliferae), a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funded collaboration between Royal Holloway, CABI and the University of Reading is investigating the role of the microbial community associated with the plant and how these microbes may be exploited to enhance biocontrol efficacy and aid in the recovery of invaded sites. It is hoped that the findings of the study may be applicable to biocontrol programmes more widely.

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My UK adventure

Monitoring Himalayan balsam
Monitoring Himalayan balsam. Copyright: CABI

 

By Fernadis (Feddy) Makale, MRes, CABI

It all started with a single application email after coincidentally stumbling on a scholarship ad online. Landing in the UK at almost sub-zero temperatures I didn’t know what was ahead of me. I had successfully won a scholarship for a Research Masters (MRes) degree co-funded by CABI and Royal Holloway University of London, UK (RHUL). After going through all the bureaucracies involved in the getting a student visa to the UK with the strict deadlines, I knew pretty well that, whatever was ahead of me was not going to be a walk in the park.

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A fifth of the world’s plants under threat, as report says 391,000 species now known to science

Dave Simpson – 11 May 2016

A ground-breaking report from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has produced an estimate of the number of plants known to science. By searching through existing databases, the researchers have estimated that there are now 390,900 known plant species, of which around 369,400 are flowering plants. But this figure is only those species currently documented: new species are being discovered all the time, including over 2000 in 2015 alone. But more worryingly, it is suggested that 21% of plant species are under threat, from a range of pressures including climate change, habitat loss and invasive species. The invasive species component of the report, which draws heavily on CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium, says that nearly 5,000 plant species are documented as invasive, from over 13,000 vascular plant species naturalised outside their native range.

Prof Kathy Willis, director of science at RBG Kew, said: “It’s really important to know how many plant species there are, where they are and the relationship between the groups, because plants are absolutely fundamental to our well-being”

And on invasive species, the head of conservation science at Kew, Dr Colin Clubbe, said that invasive species are one of the biggest challenges for biodiversity. Quantifying the number of species regarded as invasive is a key step towards addressing the problem. “Now that we’ve got this list and this number, it’s certainly a bit like know your enemy,” said Dr Clubbe.

JK

Japanese knotweed, a major invasive
“We know what we are dealing with, we can then look at them, and see what’s similar, what makes a good invasive, and then see how we can use that information to have better management practices in place or recommendations for how you deal with them.”

 
Trade, plant collecting, and movement of people, has led to at least 13,168 species of vascular plants becoming naturalised outside their native range. The report says that they become classed as invasives once they start to compete with native vegetation and spread to a degree that causes damage to the environment, the human economy or human health. The effects on livelihoods, and on ecosystem services such as agriculture, forestry, water and pollinators, can be staggering: the Kew report cites one study as estimating the total costs from all invasive species as nearly 5% of the world economy, and it also quotes CABI research which estimated the impact on the British economy alone as around £1.7 billion every year. Japanese knotweed, one of the most invasive plants in the UK, costs Great Britain over £165 million annually to control.

The Kew report synthesizes invasive species data from the open-access CABI Invasive Species Compendium, the Global Invasive Species Database (GISD), global reviews of invasive trees and shrubs by Rejmánek and Richardson, and Weber’s Invasive Plant Species of the World: a Reference Guide to Environmental Weeds published by CABI in 2003. CABI’s ISC – flagged in the report as “the most comprehensive web-based resource” – has datasheets for 4,841 of the total of 4979 invasive vascular plants in Kew’s consolidated list.

Identifying other threats to plant biodiversity, the report says that farming is the biggest extinction threat, representing 31% of total risk to plants. Logging and the gathering of plants from the wild is responsible for 21.3% of the risk, followed by construction work with 12.8%. The report said that some 1,771 areas of the world have been identified as “important plant areas” but very few have conservation protection measures in place.

Highlighting just how many plant species are already important to humans, the report says that some 17,810 plant species have a medical use, 5,538 are eaten, 3,649 become animal feed and 1,621 are used for fuels. Over 11,000 plant species are used for materials, for example fibres and timber.

“[Plants] provide us with our food, our fuel, our medicines – even controlling our climate” says Professor Willis.

The report can be downloaded in full, or data from individual sections accessed, at the website stateoftheworldplants.com. A symposium on the report is being held at Kew on 11-12 May. Moving forward, the global assessment will now be carried out annually, allowing scientists to monitor how plants are changing over time.

New Strategy Receives Thumbs Up

Group photo GA 2015

This week in Douala, Cameroon, the General Assembly of the African Union’s InterAfrican Phytosanitary Council (IAPSC) gave the thumbs up to IAPSC’s new strategic plan. IAPSC Director Dr Jean Gerard Mezui M’Ella thanked all the organisation’s partners who had assisted in the preparation of the plan, especially FAO’s Regional Office for Africa for funding the work. Titled “For Better Plant Health in Africa”, the plan identifies four key impact areas, and names a number of partners, including CABI, whose support will be important in its operationalization.

Following on from earlier discussions with IAPSC, CABI Africa’s Roger Day made a presentation on “A Plant Health Management System (PHIS) for IASPC”, corresponding to output 2.3 of the strategy. The ideas were well received by the General Assembly, which immediately appointed a small task force to develop a proposal as a basis for mobilising resources. The General Assembly also adopted a resolution saying it “Welcomes the cooperation between CABI and IASPC on Plant Health Information Systems, and urges them to develop further the ideas for putting in place an effective PHIS, and calls upon international partners to avail financial and technical resources for implementing such an important project”.

For further information contact IAPSC (au-cpi@au-appo.org) or CABI (Africa@cabi.org).

Tackling Tutsan

Tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum) is invasive to New Zealand and Australia. Native to many countries throughout Europe and western parts of Asia, it is thought to have been introduced as a garden ornamental by acclimatisation societies in the 1800s due to its attractive yellow flower. Today, tutsan is a severe weed in several regions of New Zealand, most significantly affecting the Ruapehu District and Bay of Plenty region in the North Island. Over the last 20 years, tutsan has become an increasing problem in these regions; spreading throughout low fertility pastures and along roadsides. There is concern that tutsan has the potential to pose a significant conservation threat if it continues to spread at its current rate through scrub and native forest fringes.

Flowering tutsan plants growing in New Zealand (photo: Lizzie Rendell, 2011)
Flowering tutsan plants growing in New Zealand (photo: Lizzie Rendell, 2011)

Recent estimates indicate that around 150,000 ha of land in the Ruapehu district is affected by tutsan. Within the district, the annual cost of controlling the weed, and loss of farming profit amount to around $NZ1.2 million (£600,000), and loss of current land values is estimated at $NZ27 million (£13 million). Tutsan is a persistent weed for which there are no registered chemicals. Off-label herbicides are currently used in an attempt to limit its spread, but these are proving ineffective with stands typically reappearing several years later. The weed is unpalatable to stock and the topography of the region’s worst affected areas further limits the control methods possible. Continue reading