An initiative known as the International Plant Sentinel Network seeks to capitalise on this potential in order to leverage various governments’ investments into 2,500 botanic gardens and arboreta in jurisdictions throughout the world in order to assist border biosecurity. B3 is now contributing to and championing the initiative in New Zealand, along with a significant contribution from Scion and recently Canterbury University via a summer student fellowship.

The International Plant Sentinel Network works by liaising with collaborators such as staff of botanic gardens and arboreta to assist with tasks such as regularly monitoring plant health, taking photographs of pests and diseases, collecting samples for pest or disease analysis and arranging for expert identification.

Prior to becoming involved in the Sentinel Plant Network, B3 had already set up an identical pilot research initiative known as the Expat Plants Project. The project identified teams of scientists in Europe, North America and Australia who are able to detect pests and diseases amongst plantings of New Zealand species. In doing so, they are able to warn New Zealand workers of potential threats. Exactly the converse applies to New Zealand, where workers are able to report on damage found on European, North American or Australian plant species by pests and pathogens that are present in New Zealand

To date the collaborators have all monitored plants from the partner countries for the presence of pests and diseases in order to provide pest and disease warnings. In doing so, the applicability of this approach has been amply demonstrated by work off-shore showing the potential threat of Myrtle rust (Puccinia psidii s.l.) to New Zealand Myrtaceae including pohutukawa

B3 is now building on this earlier Expat Plants Projectby contributing on behalf of New Zealand to the Sentinel Plant Network. This new project’s international scope will clearly increase New Zealand’s ability to predict potential new pests and diseases, while assisting other countries in doing the same. Moreover, New Zealand stands to gain enormous value in a way that is likely to be fiscally neutral, although consideration must be given not to overload New Zealand’s diagnostic services.

B3 is now working with the Curator of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Dr John Clemens, who has drawn this opportunity to the attention of the Botanic Gardens Australia and New Zealand Inc Association. Similarly B3 has been communicating with Alan Matchett, curator of the Dunedin Botanic Gardens. The idea of the Sentinel Plant Network will be advanced at the 5th Global Botanic Gardens Congress to be held at the Dunedin Botanic Garden in October 2013.

In the meantime B3 is continuing to work with botanic garden staff to:

  • Develop best practice (and provide examples) for selecting the most suitable partners (botanic gardens).  This may be based on climatic similarity, existing or possible trade links and plant health diagnostic capabilities.
  • Develop operating procedures, protocols and training material
  • Provide input to the development of remote diagnostics/remote microscopy for known pests and DNA profiling for unknown species

The goal is to produce procedures that can be readily incorporated into gardens’ existing activities, such as advice on pest management, which would increase the mutual benefit to all participants.