A French fungus could be the answer to controlling a coastal weed that is threatening the nesting sites of Victoria’s little penguins.
Scientists from the CSIRO are spraying the fungus on the invasive* sea spurge weed, which has become a big problem at beaches across southern Australia, including in the Port Campbell National Park where little penguins nest.
Sea spurge came to Australia from France about 70 years ago and has quickly spread along the southern Australian coastline from Geraldton in WA to Victoria and Tasmania and up to the mid-north coast of NSW.
Sea spurge makes it hard for penguins and other beach-nesting birds to reach their nests and dig burrows in the sand dunes. It also pushes out native vegetation.
Until now, the only way to manage the weed was to pull it out by hand or spray it with chemicals. But it has become too widespread for these approaches to have much impact.
Now, CSIRO researchers have discovered a super weapon fungus, called Venturia paralias, which infects the weed and reduces its ability to produce seeds and spread.
The fungus was sprayed onto sea spurge at trial sites in some Victorian national parks six weeks ago, and rangers are already seeing sick plants.
Last week, it was released by CSIRO and Parks Victoria at Port Campbell National Park, a popular tourist destination that is home to the famous London Bridge and Twelve Apostles rock formations, as well as colonies* of little penguins.
Land care groups and citizen scientists* are now being recruited to help introduce the fungus at their local beaches where the weed has taken hold.
CSIRO research technician Caroline Delaisse said the fungus was originally found on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of France where it was causing damage to sea spurge plants.
Scientists were able to collect the fungus from the diseased plants and test it in France, before bringing it to the CSIRO’s quarantine facility in Canberra for further study.
“Our research found that the fungus is highly specific towards sea spurge. Based on our results, the fungus was approved by the regulator for release in Australia,” Ms Delaisse explained.
CSIRO scientist Gavin Hunter said there had been years of tests to ensure the fungus would only affect sea spurge and not harm other species.
Dr Hunter said it was hoped the fungus would establish itself across southern Australia and become a permanent, labour-free solution to suppress* the sea spurge weed.
- invasive: tending to spread quickly and in a way that’s difficult to stop
- colonies: groups living together
- citizen scientists: members of the public who collect information on behalf of professional scientists
- suppress: to hold back or stop
- Which country is the fungus from?
- Why is the sea spurge weed threatening the nesting sites of little penguins?
- How long ago did sea spurge arrive in Australia?
- How does the fungus affect sea spurge plants?
- Which organisation has been studying the fungus as a way to control sea spurge?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Map the locations
Draw and label a map to show the following:
- Where the sea spurge weed came from
- Where sea spurge has spread in Australia
- Where the fungus was originally found
- Where the fungus was tested in Australia
- Where the fungus has been released to control sea spurge
Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Geography; Sustainability
Explain how community members will be used to help solve the sea spurge problem.
Can you find an example of an environmental issue in your local area that community members are involved in addressing?
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Sustainability
Fighting one plant with another sounds like a bizarre move, but it’s working. Imagine you are the new plant superhero, the French Fungus. You have been called in to stop the spread of the evil sea splurge and rescue the penguins.
Recount the events of your epic battle against sea splurge and how the penguins celebrated your victory.
Use your VCOP skills to engage the audience. Remember that short sharp sentences will help build suspense, so your connectives will be low level or non-existent.
Do you notice anything else about your VCOP?