Natural bio-enemy trade snowballs

Natural enemies of weeds, and insect and animal pests have a great deal more to offer in the continuing effort to reduce pesticide use in Australia, according to Dr Leigh Pilkington, the organiser of a major international conference on biological control held in Sydney earlier this month.

Scientists from around the world attended the inaugural Australian and New Zealand  Biocontrol Conference held in Sydney.

"Most pest species - whether they are a weed, a disease, an insect or a pest animal - have a natural enemy already in their local environment," said Dr Pilkington, a research scientist with NSW Department of Primary Industries at Gosford Horticultural Institute.

"These beneficial organisms are out there - we just need to make them work better for us.

"We are learning so much about how to provide the environment for beneficials to prosper - and let them do the job of controlling pests.

"There are now a dozen commercial operators who rear beneficial predators and supply them to farmers and land managers for pest management.

"Our understanding of refuges where beneficials can find protection, a breeding place and a food source, and the use of ‘soft’ pesticide strategies that don’t impact on beneficials, has increased dramatically."

Dr Pilkington said biocontrol had moved on from the days when exotic predators were brought into the country with less stringent controls.

"We are now a lot more cautious about bringing organisms into Australia without understanding their target range or underestimating their ability to spread," he

"Today it is less about bringing in an exotic insect or other beneficial and more about identifying and conserving native natural enemies that are already here.

"As a result, biological control is snowballing - more and more work is going into identifying and developing biocontrol agents.

"And more and more growers are adopting Integrated Pest Management
which emphasises crop hygiene, reduced-risk chemicals and involves, at the higher levels, biocontrol."

Dr Pilkington said scientists from around the world shared ideas and experiences at the Australian and New Zealand Biocontrol Conference.

"There were more than 100 participants and over 50 presenters spanning the disciplines of insect pest, weed, plant pathogen and vertebrate pest biological control," he said.

Sessions and keynote presentations discussed biocontrol success stories, eradication of emergency plant pests with the use of biocontrol agents, ecological control of insects, vertebrate pest control, biocontrol safety and the way forward for Australasia.