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Prioritisation of weed species relevant to Australian livestock industries for biological control

Weeds affect livestock industries in many ways. The financial impact (yield losses and costs of control) of weeds on livestock industries in Australia was estimated to be more than $2 billion a year in the early 2000s. Classical biological control (biocontrol) is the only realistic option for managing many of the serious weeds affecting these industries. Indeed, the livestock industries have had a long history of investment in weed biocontrol in both northern and southern Australia. It is critical though that weed targets are carefully selected by assessing them against likely return on investment in biocontrol. 

This project's goal was to develop and apply a framework, based on a matrix assessment system, to prioritise biocontrol efforts using new agents against 79 weed taxa. These taxa were identified in a concurrent project, supported by MLA, as priorities for Research, Development and Extension to address weed problems of Australian livestock industries. The framework considered the current and potential impacts of the weeds on livestock industries versus prospects for biocontrol. The latter combines assessments of feasibility of undertaking a biocontrol program that would yield host-specific agents, and the likelihood that biocontrol agents would be successful in mitigating the impacts of the weeds once released in Australia. 

The framework also included devising explicit a priori goals for the biocontrol program of each weed. These goals served to help assess the likelihood of success of biocontrol and could ultimately be used to assess the success of biocontrol programs should they be implemented. Definitions and guidelines were developed to guide assessment of all components of the framework. The main advantage of the prioritisation framework is its transparency each categorisation is supported with a written rationale that explained the ranking selected and captured any uncertainties or qualifications in the ranking. 

Key investment areas for future actions/research that specifically address biocontrol knowledge gaps for each weed were also identified. Potential investment areas to enhance the efficacy of already released biocontrol agents or to explore non-classical biocontrol approaches were considered separately from the prioritisation framework. An expert elicitation and consultative approach, involving other Australian biocontrol practitioners and ecologists in a workshop environment, was taken to gather the necessary information and opinions to process each weed through the prioritisation framework. 

Following cross-checking and review by the project team, the compiled information, categorisations and explanations for each weed were circulated to workshop participants for additional comments, which were taken into consideration in finalising results. Twenty-one weeds with the highest combined rankings for biocontrol prospects and current and/or potential impacts were shortlisted as priority taxa for future investment. For example, to be shortlisted, weeds with low current and/or potential impacts had to have at least moderate-high biocontrol prospects, whereas high impact weeds were included even if biocontrol prospects were low-moderate.

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Title Size Date published
1.6MB 20/11/2013

This page was last updated on 24/07/2017

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