Myrtle rust’s impact on our native ecosystems has now been captured on film. This film introduces myrtle rust and its cultural, social, and ecological effects on Australia’s native environment.
Indigenous rangers, scientists and landowners share stories of this fungal disease and its impact on our precious species and landscapes. We learn about their efforts to bring species back from the brink of extinction and the value of protecting our unique ecosystems from biosecurity threats for generations to come.
To watch this powerful documentary, please click here.
Myrtle rust, caused by the exotic fungus Austropuccinia psidii, is native to South America. However, it was first detected in Australia in April 2010 in NSW, spreading rapidly to other parts of Australia. The disease affects plant species in the family Myrtaceae and attacks new growth, with symptoms developing quickly on new shoots, young leaves, and stems. Myrtle rust is affecting more than 380 Australian species, with sixteen species predicted to become extinct within a generation, and many more are in decline.
Myrtle rust was first reported on K’gari in 2013, but assessments on the impact of the disease on different species and ecosystems on the island haven’t been documented until recently. Collaborations between Butchulla Land and Sea Rangers and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries have seen several joint surveys conducted since 2018, including looking at impacts post-wildfire.
Large areas of the island have been surveyed with myrtle rust detected in Melaleuca wetlands, heath environments, wet sclerophyll forests, rainforests and vegetation surrounding a few of the lakes. Species affected include Cinnamon myrtle (Backhousia myrtifolia), blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis), midgen berry (Austromyrtus dulcis), satinay (Syncarpia hillii), Silky myrtle (Decaspermum humile) and paperbark (Melaleuca quinquenervia). The most significant impacts have been recorded in areas recovering from the wildfires in 2019 and 2020.
There is no eliminating this disease now that it is established on K’gari and the mainland. We need to work together to manage the impacts. Collecting seed and capturing valuable germplasm of species being affected is an important strategy to ensure species are not lost. Growing disease-resistant seedlings for regeneration programs and implementing galangoor gira (good fire) or cultural fire management will help manage the impacts on different ecosystems.
Article contributed by Dr Geoff Pegg, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Tilly Davis, Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation