While countries around the world have adopted strict movement restrictions and border controls to reduce the spread of COVID-19, no such option exists to limit the movement of airborne agricultural pests and pathogens.

The lack of a coordinated, rapid, and localised plant pest surveillance network limits the ability of cross-industry collaboration to support pest management decision making and early response.

The iMapPESTS program will develop a mobile cross-industry plant pest surveillance network, which will provide actionable information to primary producers and government, on endemic, established and trade sensitive or exotic pests. Advanced plant pest diagnostic methods are being investigated to speed up the identification using specific and sensitive technologies. iMapPESTS communication and extension activities for the program aim to build awareness and adoption of surveillance outcomes to stakeholders of the Australia’s plant industries.

A suite of mobile surveillance units, called ‘Sentinels’, will feature cutting surveillance technologies for the trapping of airborne pests and pathogens while collecting local environmental data that relates to the time of trapping. These Sentinels will vary in weight, size, power requirements, and shape, but all perform the same task of monitoring high priority targets across Australia’s plant industries. They are designed to be deployed to regional locations across a diverse range of landscapes and adaptable to suit a specific plant industry’s needs for plant pest surveillance.

The data and information generated by the surveillance trials are shared with industry through various communication channels and extension activities, an activity being led by AUSVEG, in collaboration with the extended research and industry network.

 An iMapPESTS Sentinel. Image: iMapPESTS

An iMapPESTS Sentinel. Image: iMapPESTS

While the Sentinels trap airborne pests and pathogens, researchers are trialling new and emerging diagnostic tools that aim to speed up the delivery of accurate information on what exactly is captured. In addition to speeding up accurate reporting of target pests, the iMapPESTS diagnostics collaboration is using high throughput sequencing (HTS) to investigate ways to report on a wider range of insects captured by the Sentinels, including pests and beneficials. These techniques have the potential to monitor for pests and vector-borne diseases of biosecurity interest to the industry.

Another element of the diagnostics research involves analysis of the gut contents of high priority pests to better understand their feeding habits, such as the plants they may take refuge in once a crop is harvested, or their preference for one crop over another.

AUSVEG is currently working with Data Effects to create a dashboard for users to access the outcomes of the Sentinel surveillance trials and are capturing feedback from industry to shape it into a user-friendly tool to improve pest and disease management.

The success of the research initiative ultimately comes down to extension and adoption of the surveillance outcomes to plant industry stakeholders. Pest and disease information is shared with on-farm decision makers to improve pest management practices and support trade and market access.

For more information, please contact Shakira Johnson (Engagement & Adoption for iMapPESTS) at [email protected] or visit the website imappests.com.au

This project is supported by Hort Innovation, through funding from the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural R&D for Profit Program and funding from 16 partner organisations.

 Langhorne Creek Sentinel. Image: Josh Cranwell

Langhorne Creek Sentinel. Image: Josh Cranwell