Dr Nigel Bell, AgResearch scientist and Project Leader for the B3 project, ‘Biosecurity risk in natural ecosystems’, was the key organiser for the symposium, which aimed to raise awareness of the value of botanic gardens and plant collections internationally to assist in the identification of potential plant pests which could threaten indigenous plants in their area of origin. IPSN is founded on the notion that living plant collections at botanic gardens around the world are capable of serving as early warning systems to help predict and prevent the incursion of new pests (invertebrates and pathogens) that threaten native plants.

The six presentations in the symposium described examples of research that have been carried out to assess the value of sentinel plants in contributing to border biosecurity risk assessment. The first presentation was made by the ISPN’s coordinator, Dr Ellie Barham, who travelled from England to officially launch the Network, which is being led by the UK’s Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) in collaboration with Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and other European partners.

The five additional invited papers were as follows:

  • Lee Aalders from AgResearch discussed research to identify exotic nematodes that were associated with New Zealand native plants growing in three overseas botanic gardens, as a means to predict potential future threats in New Zealand.
  • Dr John Clemens, curator of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, delivered a talk on a case study carried out by a student last summer using botanical gardens to identify new associations between aphids and pine species.
  • Dr Peter Scott from Scion discussed ways of monitoring sentinel plantings of New Zealand Myrtaceae in Australia in order to determine the threat of Myrtle rust to New Zealand.
  • Dr Daniel Stern from the American Public Gardens Association in the U.S. suggested new opportunities for botanical gardens to detect plant pests and diseases through collaborative offshore monitoring.
  • Dr Ronny Groenteman of Landcare Research talked about pre-emptive biocontrol and plant sentinels.

The symposium and launch were a huge success and showed the immense international support for the project. Suzanne Sharrock, Director of Global Programmes at BGCI, commented, “The world’s botanic gardens and arboreta collectively cultivate around one third of the world’s known plants, including many that are being grown far from their native habitats. This project will help to realise the potential of these ‘outliers’ to provide an essential pest and disease early warning system.”

B3 researchers plan to work reciprocally with other members of the IPSN so that we can help each other to identify potential pests and diseases that might damage our respective native plants, and alert border biosecurity agencies to the source and nature of the risk.

“Dr Chris Green from DOC says “DOC has fully supported the sentinel plant project in B3 as a useful way of predicting pests and diseases that could threaten New Zealand’s native flora. We applaud the establishment of an international network based on sentinel plants in Botanic Gardens around the world to expedite this research.  New Zealand native Myrtaceae planted in Australia have already proven the concept by demonstrating the risk that Myrtle rust poses to many New Zealand plant species”.

At a recent B3 meeting with members of the horticultural and arable industries, considerable interest was shown in further extending and applying the concept of sentinel plants for natural ecosystems to productive systems.