Take a walk in the wild

Page last updated: Friday, 16 October 2020 - 2:48pm
Action Go outdoors and explore local parks and regional nature reserves
Learning

Observe how plant pests and diseases alter natural ecosystems

Begin your blitzing adventure

Let's focus on how to look for and observe plant pests and diseases in the natural environment. Get outdoors and explore your local parks and gardens, or head further afield to your favourite nature reserve. Observe how plant pests and diseases or other factors might alter the natural ecosystems which support plant life.

Australia is home to more than one million species, many of which are ‘endemic’ – found nowhere else in the world. Our native species are threatened by invasive organism, including pests and pathogens that can weaken or kill plants. Changes in plant composition due to pests and pathogens can have serious consequences to Australia’s native biodiversity. Plants killed by pests can create an opening for invasive species, making it easy for them to dominate the landscape, altering habitats and food web relationships that our native plants and animals depend on.

Keeping ecosystems healthy and protecting them from pests and diseases is important to the long-term productivity and sustainability of our forest, grassland, desert and marine ecosystems.

sign up to participate in the Biosecurity Blitz

Activities 1-7

Activity 1 - Invite a friend to blitz with you

  1. Forward the email invitation to a friend this week (any day) and invite others to take part in the Biosecurity Blitz month-long event and celebrate the 2020 International Year of Plant Health.
  2. Sign up today to receive the weekly newsletters.
  3. View the 30-day calendar of activities and register to be a Biosecurity Blitz ‘Beginner’ or a ‘Boffin’ and get the new surveillance passport to fill in.
  4. Start making reports to collect evidence you really are a BBB.

Activity 2 - Nature’s best drilling team

Australian native woody plants are prone to attack by various bark and wood boring insects, usually beetles or moths that lay their eggs on or inside the tree. Healthy plants usually tolerate borer attacks, with new growth outgrowing the weakened branches and exudation of gum restricting borer activity. However, continuous attack may weaken the plant resulting in branches breaking off and reducing the plant lifespan. Borers are not boring, are they?

  1. Visit a natural park, forest or urban reserve.
  2. Look for beetles or moths sitting on trunks or branches and try to find boreholes. Take a photo of the plant and another up close of the insect and/or bore-hole. Can you stick a pencil or pen in the hole to show the size of the hole? Read the activity ‘European house borers are not boring’ to learn how exotic borers can impact your home.
  3. Make a report, fill in your passport.

Activity 3 - Mandibles at work

Leaf-chewing invertebrates have well developed chewing mouthparts. Their damage may occur to plant parts above-ground, or even below-ground on the roots, and includes damage such as missing portions of leaf edges, holes on leaves, chewed stems and removal of entire leaves or whole seedlings and young plants. Remember, whatever invertebrates chew plants in the wild, they will also be affecting native plants in your garden!

  1. Visit a natural park, forest or urban reserve.
  2. Look for insects on leaves, stems of plants leaves, stems or flowers. Can you see them using their mouthparts to chew the plant? Take photograph of the insects you find.
  3. Make a report, fill in your passport.

Activity 4 - Getting a bit rusty?

Fungal diseases can cause the death of native plants by affecting their health and reducing their ability to reproduce or survive. Fungal spores survive in soil, spread by wind or water, and can be transported on clothing, equipment and tools. Make sure that you are not moving them into, within or out of a natural area! Remember to use clean-down stations and boot cleaning stations!

  1. Visit a natural park, forest or urban reserve.
  2. Be on the lookout for Phytophthora (dieback) or Myrtle rust (found only in Eastern Australia) on or under leaves of gum trees / wax flowers / tea tree / bottlebrush / native peppermint trees and lilly pilly.
  3. Follow the instructions in the activity ‘Are you a bit rusty, Myrtle?’ and do not touch the plants!
  4. Look for, photograph and report any damage to host plants so we can be sure the disease has not spread to Western Australia. Make an absence report (we hope) and fill in your passport.

Activity 5 - A plant’s best friend

This is the time of the year to enjoy Australian wildflowers. They attract not only nectar-loving birds, but also insect predators like hoverflies and small parasitic wasps that act as natural pest control agents! Let’s see if you can spot some while taking a walk in the wild side!

  1. Visit a natural park, forest or urban reserve.
  2. Look for native wildflowers and photograph all the insects that you find visiting the flowers.
  3. Make a report, fill in your passport.

Activity 6 - Life beyond the Thunderdome

The Australian outback contains unique plant communities and ecosystems. However, the remoteness of some areas represent an opportunity for invasive pests such as fire ants to remain unchecked, multiply and spread. Vertebrates such as camels, pigs, goats or rabbits can uproot plants, chew tree bark, and eat entire plant communities. Weeds displace native plants and invasive grasses can increase fire intensity. Take your own Mad Max adventure!

  1. Visit a remote area, pretend you are in the land of Thunderdome. HINT: old movie.
  2. Look for and photograph vertebrates, invertebrates, plants and the presence or absence of pests and diseases in the outback.
  3. Make multiple reports, fill in your passport with each report made.

Activity 7 - I'm off on an adventure

Some pests can be expert hitchhikers, carried in everyday items, and their first port of call could be your humble garden patch or one of our protected natural parks. Pests can jump from the neighbour’s garden, the street verge, the orchard, fields and farms, and into our native forests and bushlands by hitching a ride in your vehicle or on your clothing. Do you have a hidden passenger?

  1. Check your garden equipment, camping gear, clothing, cars and tyres for pests which may have hitched a ride from faraway places. 
  2. Find out what plant health regulations have been put in place to protect agriculture, forestry and the environment. Be careful about bringing plants and plant products (e.g. seeds, vegetables, cut flowers) into natural areas or when you cross borders, even when you order from online sources.
  3. Make a report of what you find (or don’t find) after your journey or examine any packaged goods bought from a store, supermarket or local food stall which travelled afar and fill in your passport.