The Priority Ranking of Non-Target Invertebrates, or PRONTI, model is a new risk assessment tool that helps decision-makers understand how introducing new biological control agents, such as beneficial insects, might impact on New Zealand’s invertebrate population. The model prioritises New Zealand invertebrates that may be affected by the introduction of the agent so that testing can be undertaken before the biocontrol agent is cleared for release into the environment.

“New Zealand has a unique environment that needs to be protected,” says Jacqui Todd, an entomologist at Plant & Food Research. “Whilst we need to control insect pests that could damage our crops, and our horticultural export income, we need to make sure the risks to our existing fauna don’t outweigh the benefits. Using PRONTI allows us to predict which invertebrates – such as insects, spiders, snails and worms – might be at risk from new biological control agents so testing can be undertaken before decisions are made about releasing these into the environment.”

PRONTI was developed by scientists at Plant & Food Research, with funding from the Better Border Biosecurity (B3) collaboration. Analysis by scientists at Plant & Food Research, Scion and AgResearch has determined that the model could potentially identify unexpected “at risk” invertebrates compared to conventional risk species selection, and that the ranking of risk better informs the development of test species lists required.

A group of researchers and stakeholders, including the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Department of Conservation (DoC), recently met to discuss the model. Subsequently, the model will enter a “live test” to analyse its performance compared to current risk assessment processes and assess the suitability of PRONTI to become best-practice in the risk assessment of new biological control agents.

Better Border Biosecurity (B3) is a cooperative science collaboration that researches ways to reduce the entry and establishment of new plant pests and diseases in New Zealand. B3 integrates investment and expertise from five research organisations – AgResearch, the Bio-Protection Research Centre, Landcare Research, Plant & Food Research and Scion – and three end-user partners – MPI, DoC and the New Zealand Forest Owners Association.

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