Biological control (or biocontrol) uses specialised natural enemies (biocontrol agents), to help control invasive species. Biocontrol is not a “silver bullet”, but it can play an important role in the integrated management of gorse. Farmers, natural resource managers, community volunteers and others contribute to biocontrol efforts by identifying infestations suitable for biocontrol, releasing biocontrol agents, monitoring biocontrol agent release sites, and recording field observations of agents as they spread across the landscape. Four biological control agents have been released for gorse:
- Gorse seed weevil Exapion ulicis
- Gorse spider mite Tetranychus lintearius
- Gorse thrips Sericothrips staphylinus
- Gorse soft shoot moth Agonopterix umbellana
In the long term, these four agents are expected to reduce gorse vigour and reproduction. The first two, gorse seed weevil and gorse spider mite are now widespread. Gorse thrips has been widely released, but population growth and dispersal appears to be slow.
The fourth biocontrol agent to be introduced, gorse soft shoot moth, is now established and abundant at several sites in Tasmania. Recent efforts involving scientists, farmers, public land managers and volunteers, has focused on collecting and releasing gorse soft shoot moths from Tasmania to supplement mainland releases.
To support ongoing biocontrol efforts, Agriculture Victoria and the Atlas of Living Australia have developed an on-line resource and smartphone app; the Australian Biocontrol Hub. The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) is a national on-line biodiversity database that contains tens of millions of user-submitted species occurrence records from field observations, collections and surveys. This resource has tremendous potential for biocontrol, as anyone is able to:
- record biocontrol agent release and establishment data;
- capture observations of biocontrol agent spread;
- ensure biocontrol agent distribution data is readily accessible, and
- access biocontrol information and references to support local biocontrol efforts.
A custom-made Biocontrol Hub app for Apple and Android phones facilitates the collection of data from the field, and makes the resources of the ALA readily available on smartphones.
To learn more about the gorse biocontrol project, or any of the other 27 weed biocontrol projects, go to https://biocollect.ala.org.au/biocontrolhub, and click on the “Go to biocontrol projects” button on the Hub home-page.
To download the Biocontrol Hub app go to Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=au.org.ala.biocontrolhub&hl=en
or the App store:
The Australian Biocontrol Hub is supported by the Atlas of Living Australia, and is funded by Agriculture Victoria, Meat and Livestock Australia and the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural R&D for Profit Programme.