Topic: Environment

Fungi experts concerned for biodiversity in Northland

By Dean Nathan
  • Northland

Fungi experts have serious concerns for biodiversity in Northland following the arrival of myrtle rust in New Zealand.  Members of the Fungal Network have been in Northland for the past week collecting specimens with the aim of finding solutions to the diseases threatening the flora and fauna.

Eric McKenzie says, "I'm a little bit worried that the new myrtle rust, once it becomes established, is going to cause a lot of yellowing and many many pustules on trees and could well lead to death of many plants."

This year the fungal network is working alongside local iwi and schools to share knowledge on the vast array of fungi.

Maj Padamsee of Landcare Research says, "Probably over a thousand different fungal species depend on kauri roots and some of them are beneficial to the plant so its a very amazing ecosystem.  And if we look more at these species then maybe some of them might be able to protect other trees as well."

Will Ngakuru (Te Roroa) says they are frustrated watching their forest die around them.

"If you note at the moment there's a lack of biosecurity planning.  We're not well prepared for these things and we tend to be reactive so we jump over there and its kauri dieback and then we jump over there and its myrtle rust.  But we still haven't formed the relationships at a local level and haven't thought about the complexity of the problem at a local level to be able to deal with it."

Microscopic fungi experts say the recent arrival of myrtle rust raises the total number of rust fungi species in New Zealand to 250, half of which are native, with the remainder being introduced species.

McKenzie says, "For all we know there could be many fosai of infection and so far we've only picked it up in the nurseries.  But if it's in a big tree one or two pustules at the top its going to spread quite rapidly but at this stage we wouldn't even be aware it was there its just too small to see at the moment."

Te Kāea Northland reporter Dean Nathan will have more tonight at 5pm on Te Reo, 6:30pm on Māori TV.