Moths set flight in the fight against problem gorse

23 February 2018

Scientists released hundreds of Tasmanian moths near Ballarat this week in an effort to combat the damaging weed ‘gorse’.

Gorse infests approximately 11,000ha of farm land across Victoria, impacts agricultural production and biodiversity, harbours pests and is a fire hazard in rural and peri-urban areas.

Agriculture Victoria research scientist Greg Lefoe said the European Soft Shoot Moth's appetite for the weed plays an important role as part of a wider integrated approach to gorse management.

“Managing the large, prickly weed is difficult as it produces thousands of seeds which spread in the wind often reinfesting previously controlled areas and can also survive in the soil for decades. However, this is where the moths come in,” Greg said.

“The hungry Soft Shoot Moth caterpillars feed on young gorse shoots which reduces the flowering and seed production of the weed. Importantly, the moths can only survive on gorse and will not harm other plants.

“Reducing the weed's ability to flower and produce seeds makes it harder for the weed to spread in the long-term, giving producers and public land managers, a greater chance clearing the weed."

The moth release is part of a broader national collaboration project led by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural R&D for Profit programme to implement biological control of six high-priority weeds.

Since 2015, scientists and land managers from around Australia have collected more than 20,000 moths from Tasmania and released them across Victoria, NSW and South Australia.

Greg said collaboration has been critical to the project’s success so far, and the project team works closely with local and regional land managers and community-based groups, such as Landcare.

“The on-ground networks select sites that present good targets for biological control, and help measure the effectiveness of the moths as the control agent,” he said.

“It is hoped that the moth will become established in gorse infestations across south-eastern Australia and contribute to reducing the weed, in combination with three previously established biological control agents: the gorse seed weevil, gorse spider mite and gorse thrips.”

The release also coincided with the launch of a new biological control smartphone app ‘Bio Control Hub’, developed by Agriculture Victoria and CSIRO’s Atlas of Living Australia team as part of the same collaboration project.

The free app, available here, allows producers and land managers to access information about the Soft Shoot Moth and other biological control agents to help manage weeds. They can also record field observations, which then become part of the Atlas of Living Australia.

Information:
Greg Lefoe
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