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Improving risk prediction & reducing uncertainty pre-release for classical biocontrol agents

This project finished in 2022 after five years.

  • Researchers developed new tools to improve host testing in containment and support pre-release risk assessment of candidate biological control agents (BCAs).
  • These tools will provide better predications of potential direct, and where possible, indirect impacts on non-target species and, ultimately, reduce uncertainty.

Project abstract

Non-native invasive insect species are threatening biodiversity and food security worldwide resulting in substantial economic, environmental, social and cultural costs. Many invasive insect species (e.g. brown marmorated stink bug, BMSB) present an imminent threat to our valued plant systems and could result in multi-billion dollar losses to New Zealand’s (NZ) agricultural and horticultural industries, and threaten NZ’s native ecosystems and Māori taonga species.

Classical biological control (CBC) is frequently adopted as a cost effective component of integrated pest management programmes for sustainable management of invasive arthropod pests. However, CBC programmes are traditionally conducted once a pest has established, and invariably all research needed to achieve approval for release of a biocontrol agent and implementation takes several years, during which time pest impacts accelerate.

A pre-emptive biocontrol approach provides an opportunity to develop CBC for invasive pests prior to their arrival into NZ, and a critical aspect of this is risk assessment carried out in advance. Implementing pre-emptive biosafety testing, means that natural enemies can be selected, screened in containment or overseas, and potentially pre-approved prior to a pest establishing, thus, improving CBC efficiency. However, such an approach may not always be feasible.

This project aimed to define the fundamental prerequisites, principles and objectives of best-practice pre-emptive biosafety assessment. We used these to develop a robust set of guidelines and decision framework that can be used to assess the feasibility of conducting pre-emptive biosafety assessment for other high-risk pests. The future implementation of the guidelines developed in this project will provide applicants and end users with the opportunity to assess if biocontrol risk assessment against a high-risk pest can be initiated pre-emptively, and will contribute to biological control preparedness efforts against high-risk biosecurity threats.

Biosecurity outcome

  • New decision support tools for host testing and modelling to give EPA and DOC improved assurance and certainty in decision-making on the potential risk of non-target impacts from biocontrol agents (BCAs) prior to their release in New Zealand.
    • These tools will incorporate new risk assessment data from sources such as improved host testing methods (e.g. olfactory/electrophysical bioassays) in containment and risk probability models.

Science outcome

  • New knowledge from chemical ecology studies (i.e. olfactory response bioassays, electrophysiology) developed to identify and understand the factors contributing to a BCA’s (i.e. parasitoid) habitat/host preferences.
  • Areas of uncertainty from previous BCA applications on the potential for non-target impacts of BCAs applications identified, collated and used to inform future research.

View publications / information on this project and others at Zotero