Myrtle rust had been recognised as a high risk for several years and response contingency plans had been developed.
However, there was no surveillance program in place (as far as we are aware) and the emergency response to the incursion was seriously flawed, with a premature decision made not to eradicate (revised four months later to suppression with a goal of long-term eradication).
By not proceeding rapidly with an eradication program (as was specified in the contingency plan) Australia may have missed a small window of opportunity to eradicate the rust before the weather became conducive to spread of the rust’s spores.
A very high priority biosecurity focus should be to prevent introductions of new variants of the rust, which could exacerbate its threat, as well as other pathogens that cause disease in Myrtaceae species.
More case studies
This is just one of 12 case studies demonstrating how weaknesses in Australia’s biosecurity systems have allowed the entry and establishment of new species likely to cause environmental harm.
All 12 case studies were submitted to the Australian Senate inquiry into how well we are prepared to prevent the entry and establishment of invasive species likely to harm our natural environment.
Image: Newly formed bright yellow pustules of myrtle rust on turpentine, Syncarpia glomulifera, courtesy CSIRO