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Protocols in ecological and environmental plant physiology


Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 56(4)

Phytophthora cinnamomi and Australia’s biodiversity: impacts, predictions and progress towards control

David M. Cahill A E, James E. Rookes A, Barbara A. Wilson A C, Lesley Gibson A D, Keith L. McDougall B

A School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Geelong campus at Waurn Ponds, Vic. 3217, Australia.
B Department of Environment and Climate Change, PO Box 2115, Queanbeyan, NSW 2620, Australia.
C Present address: Department of Environment and Conservation, Wanneroo, WA 6065, Australia.
D Present address: Department of Environment and Conservation, Woodvale, WA 6026, Australia.
E Corresponding author. Email: david.cahill@deakin.edu.au
Dedicated to the memory and research of Dr Gretna Weste, 1917–2006.
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Phytophthora cinnamomi continues to cause devastating disease in Australian native vegetation and consequently the disease is listed by the Federal Government as a process that is threatening Australia’s biodiversity. Although several advances have been made in our understanding of how this soil-borne pathogen interacts with plants and of how we may tackle it in natural systems, our ability to control the disease is limited. The pathogen occurs widely across Australia but the severity of its impact is most evident within ecological communities of the south-west and south-east of the country. A regional impact summary for all states and territories shows the pathogen to be the cause of serious disease in numerous species, a significant number of which are rare and threatened. Many genera of endemic taxa have a high proportion of susceptible species including the iconic genera Banksia, Epacris and Xanthorrhoea. Long-term studies in Victoria have shown limited but probably unsustainable recovery of susceptible vegetation, given current management practices. Management of the disease in conservation reserves is reliant on hygiene, the use of chemicals and restriction of access, and has had only limited effectiveness and not provided complete control. The deleterious impacts of the disease on faunal habitat are reasonably well documented and demonstrate loss of individual animal species and changes in population structure and species abundance. Few plant species are known to be resistant to P. cinnamomi; however, investigations over several years have discovered the mechanisms by which some plants are able to survive infection, including the activation of defence-related genes and signalling pathways, the reinforcement of cell walls and accumulation of toxic metabolites. Manipulation of resistance and resistance-related mechanisms may provide avenues for protection against disease in otherwise susceptible species. Despite the advances made in Phytophthora research in Australia during the past 40 years, there is still much to be done to give land managers the resources to combat this disease. Recent State and Federal initiatives offer the prospect of a growing and broader awareness of the disease and its associated impacts. However, awareness must be translated into action as time is running out for the large number of susceptible, and potentially susceptible, species within vulnerable Australian ecological communities.

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