CSIRO develops biological control agent for Crofton weed

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Image credit: flickr User: Marsha Wade

Sticky snakeroot, also known as Mexican devil or Crofton weed has been a real nuisance for farmers and natural reserves for over a century, as it diminishes the carrying capacity of grazing land and reduces the ecological value of bush land.

Image credit: flickr User: Marsha Wade
Image credit: flickr User: Marsha Wade

Scientists from Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), have developed a new biological control agent that just might be the end of the weed that has inhibited natural regeneration of land and greenery for so long.

According to the media release by CSIRO, the new biological control agent is a rust fungus that originates from Mexico (where Crofton weed is native) and works by “infecting the young leaves and stems of the plant, stunting development and disrupting its ability to reproduce.”

“The release of this fungus in Australia is exciting because it could make a big difference in the management of Crofton weed populations,” said Dr Louise Morin, plant pathologist from CSIRO’s Biosecurity Flagship, who is leading the Crofton weed rust fungus release program.

The Crofton weed bio-control program is a joint project of the CSIRO, the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation, the Lord Howe Island Board and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

“Other rust fungi of weeds, such as those introduced previously for the biological control of bridal creeper and rubber vine, have proved to be very effective tools to manage these weeds of national significance.”

CSIRO’s tests revealed that the Crofton weed rust fungus, or Baeodromus eupatorii, is safe for introduction, while the the first experimental releases are already underway in areas invaded by snakeroot.

“We believe the cool and wet conditions that prevail during winter on the NSW coast will be perfect for the Crofton weed rust to establish readily after release,” Dr Morin said.

“Once established in the environment, we’re confident this biological control agent will be self-sustaining, self-disseminating via wind currents, and become a long-term management solution without the need for the rust fungus to be reapplied year after year. This type of bio-control option is environmentally friendly, cost effective and likely to offer permanent suppression, so it’s regarded as the best solution to manage a range of invasive species.”