Biosecurity of native biodiversity: Naturalists have a crucial role

Australia has unique natural biodiversity. Reports indicate that about 94% of amphibians, 46% of birds, 93% of flowering plants, 69% of mammals and 93% of reptiles in Australia are endemic. In addition to climate change, the risk of harmful exotic invasive species (biological threats) entering, establishing, and spreading is the most significant threat to the sustainability of natural biodiversity. Despite Australia’s strong biosecurity system, many exotic species manage to breach our borders and threaten our native fauna and flora. Luckily, Western Australia is free from some of the most significant exotic invasive species that adversely impact on the environment and social amenity of Australia’s eastern states. For example, Myrtle rust fungus (Austropuccinia psidii) attacks and kills many plants belonging to the Myrtaceae family including Eucalyptus, Bottlebrush, Paperbarks, and Peppermint trees. Incursion of this fungus in Western Australia will have devastating impact on native trees and shrubs.

Western Australia is currently fighting incursion of a Polyphagous shot-hole borer (Euwallacea fornicatus), a beetle native to Southeast Asia. The beetle attacks a wide range of trees by tunnelling into trunks, stems and branches. This beetle has a symbiotic relationship with a Fusarium fungus, cultivating it inside the tree as a food source for the beetle and its larvae.  Establishment of this pest in Western Australia would significantly impact amenity trees, native vegetation, and the fruit and nut tree industries.

As many plants and animals are native and not present outside of Australia, there is a general lack of knowledge about the likely adverse impacts of exotic invasive species. This further enhances the need for careful attention to the biosecurity of natural diversity. Surveillance is crucial to early detection of incursions of invasive species. Community environmental organisations such as the WA Naturalists’ Club and similar 100+ groups in the state can play a crucial role in early detection of incursions of invasive species. Naturalists can make a significant contribution to safeguarding the natural biodiversity by reporting any suspect new disease symptoms, organisms and weeds in the natural environment. Regular excursions and bush walking organised by voluntary environmental organisations can become an important component of biosecurity surveillance.

It is recommended that Western Australian government considers appointing an environmental biosecurity surveillance officer to develop framework, process, and a system for surveillance of terrestrial biodiversity in partnership with environmental groups. The government should consider providing regular training to the members of the environmental groups in surveillance including reporting of early suspect detections, using the MyPestGuide™Reporter app. The environmental groups should make it a requirement for all excursions to the native environment and bush walking activities to report any suspect plants, disease symptoms, insects and other organisms to the Department of Primary Industries Regional Development’s Pest and Disease Information Service (Emergency Plant Pest Hotline) on 1800 084 881; email or use MyPestGuide™ Reporter app

Shashi Sharma