CABI releases rust fungus to control invasive weed, Himalayan balsam

26 August 2014 – From today, not-for-profit research organization, CABI, will be releasing a rust fungus at locations in Berkshire, Cornwall and Middlesex as part of field trials to control the non-native, invasive weed Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) using natural means.

Himalayan balsam has rapidly become one of the UK’s most widespread invasive weeds, colonizing river banks, waste land, damp woodlands, roadways and railways. The Environment Agency estimates that the weed occupies over 13% of river banks in England and Wales. It can reach over three metres in height and competes with native plants, reducing biodiversity. Large scale chemical and manual control is often not feasible and not economically viable.

Himalayan balsam infestation on the river Torridge, Devon, UK

Himalayan balsam infestation on the river Torridge, Devon, UK (Rob Tanner, CABI)

Using existing measures, the Environment Agency estimates it would cost up to £300 million to eradicate Himalayan balsam from the UK.

The release of the rust fungus comes after an eight-year research programme funded primarily by Defra and the Environment Agency, with contributions from Network Rail, the Scottish Government and Westcountry Rivers Trust. During the course of the research, testing in quarantine laboratories has established that the rust fungus causes significant damage to Himalayan balsam and does not impact on native species.

Minister for natural environment, Lord de Mauley, says:

“This is a great step forwards in tackling Himalayan balsam. This invasive weed prevents our native plants from flourishing, can increase flood risk, and costs the British economy £1m per year to clean up. The work CABI has done in identifying a natural control method will help us reduce the impact of Himalayan balsam without any negative effects on native species.”

Senior Scientist at CABI, Dr Robert Tanner, says:

“The release of the rust fungus against Himalayan balsam is a result of over eight years of research evaluating the safety of its use against the target species. Over time, we should see a decline in the Himalayan balsam populations along our rivers, with native plant species recolonizing these degraded sites.”

To tackle the spread of Himalayan balsam, in 2006, CABI was commissioned to find a natural way to help control this destructive weed. The aim of CABI’s research was to find one of the many insects or fungi attacking the plant that had evolved to attack only Himalayan balsam, which could be released into the UK to control the weed while leaving indigenous species unharmed. CABI found that the rust fungus did just that.

Defra Ministers took the decision to allow CABI to release the rust fungus in July 2014. This decision followed the Food and Environment Research Agency’s (FERA) review of the scientific research and a public consultation on the proposed release of the fungus to control Himalayan balsam, which ran from May to June 2014.

For more information on Himalayan balsam go to http://himalayanbalsam.cabi.org

Workshop held on future of Invasive Species Compendium

Members of the Invasive Species Consortium from the US, Mexico, Caribbean and South Pacific met in Washington DC on 4 August and unanimously agreed to keep the Invasive Species Compendium (ISC) an open access resource for a further five years. The ISC has been resourced by a diverse international consortium of government departments, development aid organizations and private companies. Consortium members agreed that work on the ISC to date was of global importance and utility, and should continue.

Invasive Species Compendium website

The Invasive Species Compendium website

The ISC is a global encyclopaedic resource that combines science-based information to support decision-making in invasive species management. Invasive species, such as non-native weeds, animals and microorganisms, are one of the main causes of biodiversity and economic loss worldwide, impacting livelihoods and human health. Since its launch, use of the ISC has continued to grow, now with over 400,000 users in 234 different countries. Read more of this post

New in July 2014 from the ISC

In July 2014 the following datasheets were published on CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium (ISC). You can explore the open-access ISC here: www.cabi.org/isc

Senna multijuga (November shower) is a shrub or tree native to South America that has been introduced to tropical regions around the world. It is tolerant of a variety of soil types and its seeds are easily dispersed by wind and people. Despite its ability to naturalize quickly and its invasiveness in Hawaii, S. multijuga continues to be spread intentionally as an ornamental plant.

Senna multijuga Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Senna multijuga Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Abrus precatorius (rosary pea) is a high-climbing, twining or trailing woody vine from the Old World tropics. Although the plant has a wide variety of uses, from medicine, food and sweetener to jewellery, horticulture and even as a weighing unit, the seeds are so toxic that a single seed can kill a human. This vine is known to be invasive to Cuba and many parts of Asia-Pacific, and is naturalized in many tropical regions including Hawaii, parts of the Marquesas and Singapore.

Senna spectabilis (whitebark senna) – epithets range from ‘environmental weed’ to ‘garden thug’ for this resilient and fast-growing tree. Native to tropical America, S. spectabilis is considered invasive in Australia, Uganda, Tanzania, Hawaii, French Polynesia and Cuba. It can spread rapidly to create monocultures and place native flora at risk.

 

Other invasive species datasheets recently published include:

Senna surattensis (golden senna)

Senna bacillaris (whitebark senna)

New in May 2014 from the ISC

In May 2014 the following datasheets were published on CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium (ISC). You can explore the open-access ISC here: www.cabi.org/isc

Tithonia diversifolia (Mexican sunflower) has been introduced to tropical parts of Asia and Africa and some Pacific islands from its native Mexico, Central America and Cuba. The combined might of rapid vegetative reproduction, hundreds of thousands of seeds and a high tolerance of heat and drought all contribute to this herbaceous plant’s invasiveness. Dense stands prevent the growth of young native plants.

Tithonia diversifolia Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Tithonia diversifolia Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Native to the Mediterranean region, Carduus pycnocephalus (Italian thistle) has been introduced around the world, presumably accidentally. Dense infestations of the thistle in pastureland can smother smaller plants, reduce livestock access to grass and even injure animals. It may also contribute to wildfires in California.

The ornamental shrub Lagerstroemia indica (Indian crape myrtle) has become invasive in many tropical and subtropical parts of the world. Originally planted around along roads and around homes, it has since spread to waste ground, disturbed sites and open grasslands in a variety of habitats, from South Africa to the Virgin Islands.

 

Other invasive species datasheets recently published include:

Indigofera spicata (creeping indigo)

Elephantopus mollis (elephant’s foot)

Briza maxima (large quaking grass)

Indigofera tinctoria (true indigo)

Ipomoea ochracea (fence morning-glory)

 

New in June 2014 from the ISC

In June 2014 the following datasheets were published on CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium (ISC). You can explore the open-access ISC here: www.cabi.org/isc

Solanum seaforthianum (Brazilian nightshade) is a very aggressive woody vine able to invade natural forests, natural grasslands, forest margins, urban bushland, riverbanks, crops, pastures, roadsides, disturbed sites and waste areas. Once established, it is able to grow forming dense monocultures that smother native plant species.

Solanum seaforthianum Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Solanum seaforthianum Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Astatoreochromis alluaudi (Alluaud’s haplo) is a cichlid fish native to East African rift lakes, satellite lakes and river systems. Common in the aquarium trade, it was also widely introduced into novel river and lakes systems in East Africa for the biological control of molluscs, where it is now widespread.

Calonectria pseudonaviculata (Buxus blight) is a fungal plant pathogen. It was identified relatively recently in the UK as an introduced species causing a devastating shoot blight of boxwood (Buxus spp.) plants that are commonly used in gardens and landscaping. This pathogen has been reported from other European countries in recent years, and may have been transported in asymptomatic infected plants or propagating materials. It survives well in plant debris and probably also in soil.

 

Other invasive species datasheets recently published include:

Alpinia zerumbet (shell ginger)

Galinsoga quadriradiata (shaggy soldier)

Rhamphicarpa fistulosa (no common name)

Sanchezia speciosa (shrubby whitevein)

Senna septemtrionalis (smooth senna)

Thunbergia fragrans (whitelady)

Zingiber montanum (cassumunar ginger)

New in April 2014 from the ISC

In April 2014 the following datasheets were published on CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium (ISC). You can explore the open-access ISC here: www.cabi.org/isc

Thunbergia alata (black eyed Susan) – Australia, Brazil, Central America and many Pacific islands are all threatened by this aggressive herbaceous vine. Once introduced into a suitable climate, often as an ornamental, it quickly establishes and spreads both sexually and vegetatively. T. alata is capable of smothering native vegetation, killing host trees, out-competing understory plants and negatively affecting the germination and establishment of native plants.

Thunbergia alata Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Thunbergia alata Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Indigofera hirsuta (hairy indigo) – native to Africa, Asia and Australia, this herbaceous legume has been widely introduced as a crop and forage plant. Its ability to adapt to a wide range of soil types, spread quickly and regenerate – even in burnt-out ground – has led it become invasive in many Pacific islands. It is also considered a weed in China, Brazil and parts of the USA.

Urochloa mutica (para grass) – U. mutica has been widely introduced to tropical and subtropical regions as a fodder grass. This species’ aggressive growth, high productivity and allelopathic abilities have allowed it to become one of the worst weeds in the USA, Mexico, Central America and Australia.

Other invasive species datasheets recently published include:

Allamanda cathartica (yellow allamanda)

Emilia fosbergii (Florida tassel-flower)

Zingiber zerumbet (shampoo ginger)

Nelsonia canescens (blue pussyleaf)

The XIV International Symposium on the Biological Control of Weeds, Kruger National Park, South Africa, March 2014

In March 156 delegates from 24 countries travelled to the Kruger National Park in South Africa to attend the XIV International Symposium on Biological Control of Weeds (ISBCW) which was held at the Nombolo Mdhuli situated in the Skukuza Camp (2 – 7 March 2014). This quadrennial international symposium is a prestigious conference which provides delegates with an opportunity to present novel research on all aspects of biological weed control, to reflect on past experiences and discuss the way forward for the discipline and – this goes without saying – to catch up with old friendships and forge new ones. Three years on from the previous symposium in Hawaii and timed to commemorate “100 years of weed biological control in South Africa” 1, the African continent hosted the meeting for the second time in its history (the first time being the IX ISBCW held in Stellenbosch, South Africa in 1996). However, perhaps partly because of the increasingly severe constraints on funding and failure to gain official approval from respective governments/organizations, which made it impossible for many people to attend, this year’s symposium saw lower delegate numbers than previous ones. Some of the traditional “strongholds” in weed biocontrol, i.e. Australia, USA and Canada were clearly underrepresented, while the high number of European participants reflected the rapidly increasing interest in weed biocontrol in this part of the world. Sadly, apart from the participants from South Africa, only one other African country (Kenya) was represented. Last, but not least, it was an important and positive feature of attendance at this symposium that up-and-coming, younger scientists from all over the world were very well represented and the presence, prominence and enthusiasm of the next generation of weed biocontrol scientists at the XIV ISBCW seems to bode well for the future of the discipline.

Nombolo Mdhuli Conference Centre, Skukuza Rest Camp, Kruger National Park

Nombolo Mdhuli Conference Centre, Skukuza Rest Camp, Kruger National Park. Host venue for the XIV International Symposium on the Biological Control of Weeds (Photo: Marion Seier)

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