cesar was a hive of activity in 2018 – what can you expect from us this year?

We certainly were busy as bees at cesar over 2018 and the coming year is set to be just as exciting.

Here’s a snapshot of what we have been up to over the past 12 months.

2018 in review

A new platypus initiative has been launched, with our Senior Ecologist, Josh Griffiths leading the charge in undertaking the biggest platypus survey yet. We’re calling it the Great Australian Platypus Search (GAPS) and it will give us more data about platypus distribution. This will help us better understand the status of this species around the country and identify key threats to the health of local populations, allowing waterways/land managers to protect platypuses. This project is running thanks to funding from the San Diego Zoo, which is well known for supporting conservation work around the world, and we are working with the University of Melbourne to make this project a success. This project will also allow us to use an exciting new technology, environmental DNA, to conduct the platypus surveillance.

We also have a series of smaller, regional citizen science-based projects running in conjunction with GAPS that will generate more detailed information on platypus in their area, but also contributing to GAPS. These are currently running in the Upper Barwon and Upper Campaspe regions.

Some of our higher profile biodiversity conservation work has included genetic rescue of the Mt Buller mountain pygmy possum, which has been a huge collaborative effort and a great success story, with hybrid offspring of translocated possums proving to be larger and more fertile than their parents. (Unfortunately, mountain pygmy possums in the Victorian Alps are again at risk, with migrations of the Bogong moth to this region becoming more erratic and jeopardising a major food source for these tiny possums).

Over September we were involved in a crowd funding campaign with the University of Melbourne to undertake more genetic rescue work, this time for the Victorian eastern barred bandicoot. We raised over $15000 to bring a group of healthy male bandicoots from Tasmania to give the Victorian population a genetic boost. We’re pretty proud of our biodiversity conservation achievements – but don’t ask us, check out our 2018 Eureka prize nomination. (Our passion for conserving biodiversity (and our mad baking skills) was also recognised during the Threatened Species Bake Off in 2018!)

Throughout 2018 we continued to monitor for evolution of pesticide resistance in important agricultural pests, such as redlegged earth mite (RLEM), lucerne flea, and green peach aphid (GPA), with continued detections of OP, SP, carbamate, and neonicotinoid resistance in GPA. In response to the recent detection of resistance in South Australian RLEM populations the resistance management plan for this pest was updated in 2018 by the National Insecticide Resistance Management group, of which cesar Director, Dr Paul Umina, is Chair. This plan was made available on the GRDC website. (During 2018 we also updated the iSPY grains pest identification manual – a great grains industry resource that can also be found on the GRDC website).

During December 2018 cesar was also proud to partner with the Centre for Crop and Disease Control Management (event coordinator), and the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative to deliver the 2018 Crop Protection Forum in Glenelg. The focus being pesticide resistance, we were pretty stoked to be a part of it and get some messages out about emerging resistance issues in redlegged earth mite and green peach aphid, as well as methods for predicting resistance risks. In addition, we are contributing to a fantastic new extension project led by the Birchip Cropping Group that aims to increase the uptake of IPM and resistance management planning throughout the southern region.

Our flagship extension project continued to be PestFacts-south eastern, a GRDC investment that allows us to gather intel on seasonal grains pests, support farmers and advisors with invertebrate identifications, and send out timely pest reports to subscribers based in Tasmania, Victoria, and the southern regions of New South Wales.

We think we’re pretty handy with predictive modelling, entomology, and industry extension. This has made us a good fit for contributing to some exciting exotic plant pest initiatives. During 2018 we continued to work with our research partners around Australia to increase preparedness for High Priority Plant Pest, the vegetable leafminer (currently found on the Cape York Peninsula). Additionally, a new preparedness initiative was launched for spotted wing drosophila (not found in Australia). During November cesar hosted two international spotted wing drosophila researchers from Michigan State University and NIAB-East Malling Research. Over five days Professor Rufus Isaacs (MSU) and Dr Bethan Shaw (NIAB-EMR) shared their knowledge with growers and agronomists in berry and grape production areas around Australia in a bid to raise awareness and knowledge about this exotic fly.

In partnership with the South Australian Research Institute (SARDI), cesar has continued to investigate the biology of the Russian wheat aphid with the intent of developing practical advice and tools for growers. To this end we have been surveying for Russian wheat aphid over this summer period, to determine which environmental factors and what grass hosts support survival of this new pest between cropping.

During 2018 we have also continued analysis of key pasture pests in south-eastern dairy regions in partnership with Pasturewise, the University of Melbourne, and Ag-Research New Zealand. The year culminated in launch of a pasture pest identification masterclass for the dairy industry, where industry attendees were put through their paces using identification keys and morphological analysis to identify a selection of unnamed specimens.

So, what can you expect to see from us in 2019?

The rubber will really hit the road (or the water) with GAPS, and we will be developing a network of citizen scientists around the country to help us monitor our platypus populations. We will communicate what we find as we find it. Our regional citizen science-based projects will continue, and we are always interested in partnering with other regional authorities and community groups. Contact Josh Griffiths if your region is interested in running a regional platypus surveillance project (

On the conservation side, we will also continue to play a strong role in genetic rescue of the Victorian eastern barred bandicoot. We will monitor changes in fitness amoung remaining Victorian eastern barred bandicoots following introduction of Tasmanian males to the population at the Mt Rothwell Conservation Park. We would love to share our conservation experiences with you, so stay tuned for an invitation to visit Mt Rothwell for a talk and evening bandicoot walk with cesar Director, Dr Andrew Weeks. 

On the resistance front, we will continue to track the evolution of resistance in key grains pests, will share our research findings with the grains industry at every opportunity, and encourage the use of resistance management planning principles through our ongoing extension work.

On the biosecurity front cesar will be investigating best ways to develop a regional surveillance pilot for exotic pests of temperate fruit, as well as continuing our research into vegetable leafminer and spotted wing drosophila. Exotic plant pests can have a devastating impact on our agriculture industries and our environment. The risk of exotic pests travelling to Australia and setting up shop is constantly increasing, and we’re excited to be contributing to a stronger biosecurity system.

Our Russian wheat aphid surveillance data, combined with data collected by SARDI and project collaborators, will lead to development of management options and tools for the Russian wheat aphid during 2019 and 2020. Keep an eye on the RWA portal to stay up to date with Russian wheat aphid distribution information and project progress.

We strongly believe in bridging the research-end user gap and putting the ‘applied’ in applied science, so in 2019 we’re building our agricultural communications and extension capabilities so we can keep delivering useful information in a meaningful way. Some extension activities from us will include:

  • developing our YouTube channel into a resource for agricultural pest information
  • developing and holding more workshops for agricultural industries
  • increased extension of our latest research findings on key endemic and exotic pests.

During 2019 we will also be on the look out for office and laboratory premises that will support our growing group, as well as sister company EnviroDNA. It’s not easy finding the right option, so we are getting creative. Maybe you can help! The space would be somewhere around 300 sq and would allow us to fit out a laboratory area, office area, and with outdoor space for a shade house. We’re looking not too far from Melbourne for a lease and are open to ideas of collaborating on finding a space with others. If you have any ideas or know someone we should speak to, get in touch!

Finally, we thank the funding bodies and individuals that have supported our work over the past 12 months, as well as our research partners around Australia. Over 2019 we’re looking forward to continuing these partnerships and, of course, working with the end-users of our research so that cesar keeps hitting the bullseye!

Cover image: Photo by Cesar Australia

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