Experts warn that if the myrtle rust fungus detected in the east Kimberley reaches the biodiversity-rich south-west of the state, the consequences could be disastrous for these ecosystems.

Since being detected in a New South Wales nursery in 2010, the fungus, recognized for its bright yellow spots and leaf rust, has established itself along the entire east coast and has been detected in all states except South Australia.

A 2021 study predicted that myrtle rust could wipe out at least 16 rainforest plants within a generation in an extinction event of “unprecedented magnitude.”

The fungus affects plants in the myrtaceae family, a diverse group that includes tropical forest species, hollyhocks, eucalypts and myrtles. The guava, a once widespread native plant, has been nearly exterminated by the fungus.

“Myrtle rust can travel hundreds of kilometers on the wind and that’s why it spreads so far“says Dr. Louise Shuey.

The department monitors tourist attractions and nurseries, but has not detected any new cases so far. The potential impact “has yet to be determined,” a department spokesman said, but the disease could cause tree death, extinction, loss of species and compromised ecosystems.

Calls for emergency action plan as myrtle rust pushes plants to extinction

“Many of them are part of the spring wildflower communities that attract tourists from across Australia and around the world” said Bob Makinson, a conservation botanist.

“If it becomes established there, it is possible to witness a large increase in the number of host species and the number of native species threatened with decline or extinction. This could be a biological disaster.”

The fungus particularly likes moisture and fresh vegetation, so it thrives on new growth after rain or a fire, meaning the wet conditions in the east of the country provided the perfect environment.

The national action plan was finalized in 2020, but has not been formally adopted by governments.

While some agencies and researchers are heroically active in this regard, their efforts need to be expanded, stitched together and better resourced.”Makinson said.

James Trezise, ​​director of conservation at the Invasive Species Council, said myrtle rust was leading to a “silent extinction” of Australia’s plant diversity.

“It is clear that the system for addressing this major threat to the environment is not working“, he said. “Australia already has the shameful title of world leader in the extinction of mammals. If we don’t strengthen our threat reduction and biosecurity systems, we may find ourselves a world leader in plant extinction as well.”

Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek agreed that a coordinated response was needed and said the government was working to implement a national action plan.

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