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Predicting the spillover of pests and pathogens into natural ecosystems

Exotic pests and pathogens pose a significant biosecurity threat to natural ecosystems, impacting their long-term resilience and the provision of ecosystem services.


Various end-users have expressed a need to understand which exotic pests and pathogens are most likely to affect New Zealand’s natural ecosystems. However, predicting these threats remains exceptionally challenging due to the often-limited baseline information available for natural ecosystems, which hinders risk assessments.


This project aims to address three specific scientific gaps:

i) A lack of primary data for predictive modelling

ii) Understanding the role of phylogeny

iii) Determining whether risks and threats ultimately lead to impacts.


The project will involve a combination of desk-based research, laboratory work, and field research. The goal of this project is to support risk assessments by accurately predicting the traits of exotic herbivore pests and pathogen species that establish themselves and adversely affect native ecosystems. Our vision for the conclusion of this project is to have analyzed more than 300 exotic species, representing most of the major plant pest and pathogen groups in New Zealand. This would create a globally unique and unparalleled resource, providing invaluable support for future biosecurity efforts.


Contact Project Leader Darren Ward:  [email protected]