Murdoch conference draws attention to ongoing dieback fight

July 17, 2014

The effects of the devastating plant disease Phytophthora dieback, a concern for the south-west of Western Australia and internationally, will be highlighted at the 13th annual Dieback Information Group (DIG) conference Murdoch University on Friday, July 18.

Professor Giles Hardy, Director of the Centre of Phythophthora Science and Management, said that we could not afford to take the spotlight off Phythophthora dieback and its threat to biodiversity.

“We have known about Phytophthora dieback since the mid-60s yet humans are still inadvertently spreading the pathogen,” Professor Hardy said.

“The Dieback Working Group has done a lot of work in Western Australia and now that they have become incorporated we intend to take our training, messages and strategies to the key stakeholders in the East coast of Australia as well.

“At this year’s conference we also take a look at the problem on an international level with speakers discussing the issue of dieback in New Zealand and the tropics.”

An overview of some of the speakers and topics at the DIG Conference 2014:

  • Dr Nick Waipara, Principal Advisor Biosecurity at Auckland Council, New Zealand; will talk about their challenges with Phytophthora dieback in Kauri, an iconic New Zealand tree species of cultural significance to Maoris. Due to extensive deforestation less than one per cent of the Kauri forest remains and much of this is now infested.
  • Keith Parnell, Owner of Parnell’s Nursery; has fought a battle against a relatively unknown Phytophthora species since 1999.  This session highlights the possibility of buying infected plants from a non- accredited nursery and introducing dieback into your own garden.
  • Professor David Guest, Policy and Regional Outreach Officer, Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, University of Sydney; will focus on his Phythophthora Dieback research in the tropics and on perennial tree crops like cocoa, coconuts, oil palm, durian and jackfruit. He has developed crop management strategies for smallholder farmers in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Phillipines and Colombia.
  • Dr Shannon Dundas, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Murdoch University; will discuss how the devastation of habitats is affecting bird and mammal species, including many rare and endangered species. Some of the animals most affected by this disease are those completely dependent on the nectar of susceptible plant species for their survival.
  • Dr Trudy Paap, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the Centre for Phytophthora Science and Management (CPSM), Murdoch University; will talk about a major decline syndrome in marri, an iconic tree in Western Australian woodlands. Historically, marri has not been valued as an economically important timber tree species.  As a consequence, this decline has been allowed to progress relatively unchecked and poorly understood. The decline of marri across much of its range is likely to have dramatic consequences on forest and woodland ecosystems. These consquences include biodiversity loss, increased fuel loads, decline in beekeeping and the honey industry, and increasing tree removal costs.
  • Elissa Stewart, Project leader, South Coast NRM; is working with a team of people to develop a  State Dieback Management and Investment Framework to identify 100 Priority Protection Areas across the south-west of Western Australia that are considered vulnerable to Phytophthora Dieback. The Framework provides a process and tools to facilitate a standardised approach to Phytophthora Dieback management across land tenure which can be utilised not only for the identified Priority Protection Areas but also for management at a local and regional scale by any group or organisation.

Conference registration is available at and costs $150 full price or $100 concession.  The conference will be held in the Kim Beazley Lecture Theatre at Murdoch University starting at 8.30am and finishing at 4.30pm.

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