Science & research

Research is vital to help us understand the impact of myrtle rust on our myrtle plants.


Auckland20Plant20Health20and20Environment20Lab 9245 JPG2To help us better understand myrtle rust and limit its impact, the Ministry for Primary Industries has commissioned a comprehensive research programme with more than 20 projects valued at over $3.7 million. The projects will be completed over 2 years to June 2019.

Research partners include Scion Research, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Kew Gardens, Australian myrtle rust researchers, Plant & Food Research, AgResearch, AsureQuality, Biosecurity Research Ltd, Wellington Gardens, Otari Native Botanic Garden, Te Papa Tongarewa, The University of Auckland, Will Allen & Associates, and Massey University.

Additionally, in November 2018 Government announced a funding increase of $13.75 million over three years to limit the spread of kauri dieback and myrtle rust.

Research on myrtle rust is focused in the following six areas:

Understanding myrtle rust

By better understanding the myrtle rust fungus and the plants that are susceptible to it, we will be in a better position to develop tools to manage myrtle rust. Projects include:

  1. Identifying native and important exotic species that can be affected by myrtle rust and their susceptibility
  2.  Genome sequencing and strain identification
  3. Determining asymptomatic periods – when a plant is a carrier for the disease but there are no visible symptoms  
  4. Understanding the impact of other strains of the fungus that are not currently present in New Zealand
  5. Initial identification of genetic markers of resistance
  6. Understanding relationships with endophytes to develop ways to disrupt the myrtle rust lifecycle

Research is led by Plant and Food Research and Scion Research in collaboration with Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Kew Gardens, University of Pretoria, and Australian myrtle rust researchers.

Mātauranga Māori

A key aim for the programme is to integrate Mātauranga Māori alongside western science to better understand myrtle rust and its impacts on our native taonga. Projects include:

  1. Developing tools that are effective and culturally acceptable
  2. Ensuring future tools and practices take into account māori priorities and practices
  3. Identifying the values driving behaviours and practices to better support māori involvement in responses
  4. Mapping of species distribution is created and used in consultation with Māori
  5. Supporting māori to develop their own myrtle rust management plans

Research is led by Plant and Food Research.

Detection, surveillance and diagnosis

Knowing how the disease spreads underpins what tactics and tools are used to find where the disease has established. Projects include:

  1. Improved myrtle rust surveillance and monitoring tools, including wide-scale surveillance effort to track spread of the disease, detecting the disease in remote areas, and statistical assessments of likelihood of presence of myrtle rust. 
  2. Mapping the distribution of high priority myrtle species across New Zealand and identification of nationally important iconic/taonga individuals.
  3. Pilot trials of management tools for individual high priority trees and sites.
  4. Review of potential disease control tools, including fungicides, biocontrol etc., to identify those most likely to be effective.
  5. Scoping a resistance breeding programme approach
  6. Development of rapid diagnostic tools
  7. Developing a national seed banking and germplasm research strategy

Research is led by Scion Research and Plant and Food Research in collaboration with Manaaki Whenua Landcare, AgResearch, AsureQuality, MPI, Biosecurity Research Ltd, Will Allen & Associates, and Massey University.

Learning how best to preserve seeds and germplasm

One of the best ways to make sure that native myrtle and dependant plant species are sustained in the long-term is to collect seeds and germplasm (other parts of plants that can produce new plants). Some of our native myrtles have seeds and tissues that are not easily preserved, and we need to better understand how it is best to store these successfully. Projects include:

  1. Developing preservation techniques for swamp maire/maire tawake
  2. Developing cryopreservation techniques for Barlett’s rātā/ rātā moehau
  3. Developing storage options for ramarama and New Zealand myrtle/rohutu

Research is led by Wellington Gardens in collaboration with Plant and Food Research, The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and Auckland University.

Decision support

With a programme of this scale it’s important to prioritise where to spend time and resources. Improved understanding of public perceptions and behaviours will allow better decisions about investment and develop social license for new tools. Projects include:

  1. Understanding public perceptions and behaviours, and their drivers
  2. Socialising emerging tools
  3. Supporting new partnerships
  4. Managing social licence aspects of managing myrtle rust
  5. Investigating alternative fungicides and their impact on non-target species

Research is led by Scion Research in collaboration with Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Plant & Food Research, AgResearch, AsureQuality, Biosecurity Research Ltd, Will Allen & Associates, Ministry for Primary Industries, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and Massey University.

Evaluating impacts and responses

Robust indicators for environmental, economic and socio-cultural systems will help evaluate the effects of myrtle rust on New Zealand ecosystems. Projects includes:

  1. Improved understanding of environmental, economic, social and cultural, impacts to inform risk assessment and management. This also includes communicating implications to decision/makers and stakeholders.
  2. Develop monitoring approaches for assessing impacts of myrtle rust to environmental, economic, social and cultural values over time, and for understanding the impact of management interventions.

Research is led by Scion Research in collaboration with Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Plant & Food Research.

Completed research projects

Links to other research projects

  • Plant and Food Research and Scion Research will lead a project addressing the threat of myrtle rust to New Zealand through a successful submission to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Catalyst Strategic Fund
  • New Zealand Plant Producers Incorporated are scoping and developing a plant production biosecurity scheme for nurseries and garden centres
  • Landcare Research will lead a project Beyond myrtle rust: Next-generation tools to 'engineer' forest ecosystem resilience to plant pathogens through a successful submission to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Endeavour Fund.