The Fast-tracking and maximising the long-lasting benefits of weed biological control for farm productivity project (Fast-tracking project) 2016–18, funded under round one of the Rural R&D for Profit program, aimed to realise significant productivity and profitability improvements for primary producers by focusing biological control.
Through eight interlinked sub-projects, the Fast-tracking project aimed to contribute to increasing the on-farm populations, reducing weed competition and herbicide use informing producers , of weed management options establishing a new collaborative national approach to weed biocontrol.
In conventional biological control programs, the discovery-to-delivery pipeline can take many years to achieve on-ground impact. The Fast-tracking project undertook to speed up the process and enable impact at scale by collectively utilising and developing financial, human (expertise and skills) and infrastructure resources in a coordinated and sustained approach.
The Fast-tracking project drew together stakeholders across regional, state and international boundaries, bringing together resources from more than 120 organisations and working alongside more than 200 land managers.
The Cylindropuntia sub-project achieved the mass rearing and redistribution of four biotypes of a sap-sucking bug or cochineal insect. Releases of these biotypes resulted in significant impact in less than twenty months, with mortality of the target weed observed. The gorse sub-project resulted in the successful collection, mass rearing and redistribution of gorse soft shoot moth to 83 sites. Monitoring has shown a promising fungus has infected plants previously damaged by the moths and may become a significant factor in suppressing the spread of gorse in the future.
Two agents were reared and released at 100 sites to assist with the integrated management of parkinsonia. The insects established at more than 50% of the sites and spread considerable distances on their own, indicating they are likely to find and attack parkinsonia plants across the rangelands. This work has also improved the efficiency of mass-rearing processes, and identified optimal locations for releases in Australia, which will improve survival and establishment rates and associated weed impacts.
The project expanded previous investment and releases of agents on parthenium. All but one of these agents have established across central Queensland with most agents causing substantial damage to, and control of, parthenium. This work also helped to train more than 36 community group members in the rearing and field release of various parthenium biological control agents. The Australian Biocontrol Hub ensures the legacy of knowledge gained through historical, current and future biocontrol activities remains up-to-date and accessible beyond the life of any given project:https://biocollect.ala.org.au/biocontrolhub
The failure of prospective agents for two weeds (silverleaf nightshade and blackberry) was identified through the host-specificity testing process. While a setback for the biological control of these particular weeds, the rigorous process of testing agents on a diverse range of plants and consultation with potentially impacted stakeholders is vital in maintaining broad community support for biological control options, and is equally applicable to both pest plants and animals.
A shared investment funding model has been piloted in NSW. The model has effectively laid the foundations for maximising the delivery of multiple biocontrol agents on the ground, while fostering a more sustainable and collaborative user-pays model for biocontrol services for the future than any other model developed in Australia.
This type of research process – a coordinated and expanded R to E pipeline – is recommended as a future model; not an exception, rather the norm to enable future impact at scale. Combined with a developing knowledge of rate of spread of agents, greater precision can be added into the future planning (where/when to release) in concert with a dispersed deliverers' network to ensure success.