[ASC-media] Media release: Prepare for climate change invaders

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Tue Nov 7 21:24:05 CET 2006

Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management 

Media Release 06/14

November 8, 2006


Australia should take urgent steps to prepare for fresh invasions of pests under climate change.

The warning was issued today by two of the nation's scientific leaders in the field of controlling pest species, Dr Rachel McFadyen, CEO of the Weeds CRC and Dr Tony Peacock, CEO of the Invasive Animals CRC.

"A great many pests will expand their range under climate change, and we can predict this with some confidence.  As rainfall patterns shift, alien plants will invade new areas of the continent," Dr McFadyen says.

"The point about invasives is that they are highly resilient," explains Dr Tony Peacock. "They are successful because they can bounce back quicker than native species, as rabbits can, for example." 

"Everything I know about climate change points to the invaders doing better than native Australian species when the going gets tough. Essentially, climate change creates fresh opportunities for pests."

Particularly at risk are the northern and central parts of the continent, Dr McFadyen cautions. "Many of the serious northern weeds such as prickly acacia, mesquite, lantana, pond apple and salvinia will expand their range - especially if, as predicted, the north receives more rainfall under a changing climate."

Of particular concern is the risk of losing vast areas of the native landscape to an invasion by African grasses, which is threatening to take over whole ecosystems.

However the picture is not all bleak: some cold-loving weeds, like broom and gorse may experience setbacks in warming conditions, she adds. "There will be winners and losers."

However Dr McFadyen is concerned that as climate change places greater stress on both native vegetation and on farm crops and this lowers their competitiveness, it will open the way to new or greater weed invasions.

Dr Peacock says the prospect of climate change means that Australia will have to place an even higher priority on detecting and curbing explosions in feral animal populations as they take advantage of changed landscape conditions.

"Ferals are the best exploiters of change and weakness in the environment.  That's why they're so successful. We need to be ready for this."

Dr McFadyen agrees. "We have to redouble our efforts to identify and wipe out invasive plants as they penetrate new areas, and before they become permanently established," she says.

"That means increasing nationwide surveillance by people who are trained in what to look out for, and increasing our effort to find suitable biological and other means of controlling these weeds, to combat their efforts to spread into new areas or take over existing ones."

Dr McFadyen says a real concern in controlling invasives is the large area of once-arable farmland which could be abandoned as farming shifts location in response to changing rainfall patterns.

"These areas have already been cleared - and if we don't keep a close eye on what's growing in them they could become an absolute haven and recharge zone for invasive plants, from which they will launch fresh assaults on the rest of the continent," she says.

Dr McFadyen said the recent decision not to renew the Weeds CRC meant that after 2008 there would no longer be a focus of scientific expertise in Australia for tackling plant invasions.

Both scientists say this is the wrong time to be winding back the national effort to combat invasive species.

More information:
Dr Rachel McFadyen, CEO, Weeds CRC: 07 3362 9388 or 0409 263 817.
Dr Tony Peacock, CEO, Invasive Animals CRC: 02 6201 2887. Tony is available Thursday 9 November and after 11am on Friday 10 November.
Peter Martin, Weeds CRC: 0429 830 366.
 For images of weed specimens, or visually striking infestations of invasive plants, contact rita.reitano at adelaide.edu.au, tel. 08 8303 6857.

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