Detecting Major Environmental and Economic Pest Organisms - 17 June 2006

Submitted by Webmaster on Fri, 23/06/2006 - 11:50

Currently the Queensland Government is trying to determine the scale of the Electric Ant infestation. Now that the media has widely broadcast information on the ants and the risk that they pose, more reports are coming in from the public. When all of that information is compiled on a map, it will be possible to calculate the cost of an eradication program and funding can be secured. One thing that is extremely important to determine is whether the pest has already become so widespread that eradication is not possible. The Federal Government makes it clear that they are unwilling to spend money killing pests unless the pests can be eradicated completely. For this reason, it is really important for the public to report strange ants, weeds, garden plants spreading in native forest, strange insects and even vertebrate pests such as deer and exotic fish as early as possible – before they become permanent pests. Most pests form a small innocuous colony first and are rarely a problem, they all of a sudden they have a population explosion and take over the place. If you think something could be a pest in the making, let an expert know. The easiest way is to take some photos and send them in to us (we know most critters) or to DPI.Pests are like a biological drought. They reduce or destroy the productivity of our land and some weeds have even shut down some agricultural industries in Australia. Presently weeds have done 8 times as much damage to our economy as has salinity. Over time, this amount will increase, as pests that we already have spread out to new areas. Not all of these pests can be reduced through biological control, for example the aquatic grass that is infesting the Barron River has no know biological controls, and even if it did, it is unlikely that the control would only eat the aquatic grass and not other economically important grasses such as sugarcane. Similarly not all weeds can be easily poisoned, some have shiny leaves that herbicide will not stick to, others have huge seed banks which sprout when you poison the mature weeds. The weeds that have arrived in Cairns area within the last 30 years are already taking over most of the small patches of rainforest that occur with farmlands and urban areas. We now face a choice of maintaining these forest patches (ie. garden them) or leaving them to the alone and allowing them to slip into a weedy degraded state. The challenge weeds pose to the survival of small areas of forest is much greater than the challenge posed by climate change. Most of the weeds are garden plants such as Singapore Daisy and the old habit of dumping garden clippings in the gully is spreading these weeds quickly. Piper sarmentosa (left) – listed as a potential weed. This colony is in Kamerunga Environmental Park and it could potentially kill the rainforest as tree seedlings may not be able to growth up through the dense blanket if forms in the understorey. Twisted stem of Turbina vine (right) – an introduced vine kills riverbank trees on the Barron River. Both of these pests are serious environmental pests but they are not considered important enough to control.We have to shut the door on new weeds and better learn to manage the weeds we have. Shutting the door on new weeds is the job of the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service. They have a list of plants that should not be allowed in the country. If you see a non-native plant doing well in native forest, you should firstly report it your local council’s weed officer as some of these weeds still get in. Each council in Queensland has one. Also report it to the Department of Natural Resources as they have a pest control branch. Take digital photos of each part of the plant (flowers, fruit, stems, leaves close-up and foliage from a distance) and email the photos in. It is also good practice to collect a small sample of the plant and dry it by placing it in a newspaper and putting a book on top as photos are not always sufficient. The best weed spotter in the north is a fellow called Sid Clayton, the weeds officer of Mareeba Shire. Sid is an average council worker, yet he has developed an eye for weeds and has detected several of the worlds worst weeds when they were only growing in small patches and due to his early detection, the weeds could be eradicated. He has probably saved the grazing and dairy industry on the Tablelands. Credit is also due to the landholders who called Sid in to look over their properties. To see what the most costly weeds or potentially most costly weed on the Wet Tropics coast look like, download this modified version of the Johnstone Shire Council weed management plan (pdf 1.6 MB). Weed management is generally thinly resourced and most of the weeds listed in the plan are not really subject to relatively low levels of control which holds the level of infestation down a bit but is unlikely to result in the area under weeds being reduced by much. Some of the weeds listed in the report are likely to undergo a population explosion in the wake of Cyclone Larry and cause great permanent damage to the rainforest. Now is a critical time for weed management in Johnstone Shire and cyclone affected parts of Cairns City such as the Babinda area.



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