Virus threat to indigenous WA plants

August 4, 2010

Indigenous Western Australian plants, including the state's floral emblem, the kangaroo paw, are under threat from introduced viruses.

How those threats impact biodiversity, conservation, ecosystem reclamation and the wildflower industry is the subject of an Australian Research Council project headed by Dr Stephen Wylie, Senior Post-Doctoral Fellow with the WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre (SABC) at Murdoch University.

Linking with commercial and government partners Alcoa Australia, Worsley Alumina, Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority and WA Department of Agriculture (DAFWA), the SABC team is documenting the role of plant viruses in the sustainability of Australia's floral heritage and developing strategies to limit virus spread by better informing plant nurseries, rehabilitating degraded ecosystems and conserving threatened species.

Dr Wylie said many viruses were spread by aphids and Australia had 13 native, or indigenous, aphid species recorded to date.

"Unfortunately, we also must deal with approximately 150 aphid species introduced from overseas and many of these have facilitated movement of damaging viruses into and out of our native plant populations," he said.

With many Perth residential homes and gardens located close to bushland and parks, the transfer of aphids and therefore the subsequent damaging viruses, was relatively easy.

The same applied to agricultural and horticultural crops and pastures located next to bushland throughout the south-west.

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