Assessing the impacts of myrtle rust on forest dynamics and function

Project start date: 01/10/2023
Project end date: 31/03/2026
NESP funding: $487,901 (GST-exclusive)

This research project is supporting the strategic management of the invasive disease myrtle rust in Australia’s World Heritage forests.

Myrtle rust is caused by the fungal pathogen Austropuccinia psidii and was first detected in Australia in 2010. It has spread quickly since then, with significant impacts for its host plants in the Myrtaceae family – including eucalypt, bottlebrush, paperbark, tea-tree and lilly-pilly species. Several species are now in dramatic decline.

Melaleuca quinquenervia with myrtle rust. Photo Geoff Pegg.
Melaleuca quinquenervia with myrtle rust. Photo Geoff Pegg.

Most current research is focused on understanding myrtle rust’s impact on individual plant species. We’re instead focusing on understanding the characteristics of forests that make them most vulnerable to myrtle rust. These might include aspects such as fire, climate and land-management practices. We’re also investigating the consequences of entirely losing native tree and shrub species from forest ecosystems.

We want to understand forest dynamics and the ecological role that different Myrtaceae species play in different forest types to help focus future management and restoration. Our research will set the foundations for a myrtle rust susceptibility model. This model will be aimed at guiding investment and fortifying biosecurity monitoring protocols.

This project will also fund additional training programs for Indigenous rangers in myrtle rust monitoring, impact assessment and management strategies.

Key research areas

To address the challenges posed by the spread of myrtle rust and to maintain the ecosystem health of Australian World Heritage forests, this project is:

  • understanding the forest characteristics that are most threatened by myrtle rust
  • assessing the consequences of the loss of native tree and shrub species for forest ecosystems
  • recommending guidelines for the management of ecological communities
  • identifying landscape-scale forest characteristics that can be used to prioritise areas for management, protection or restoration
  • recommending long-term monitoring practices to measure changes in forest condition and understand future host–pathogen dynamics
  • training Indigenous rangers in myrtle rust monitoring, impact assessments and management strategies.