Looking back – the way forward?

As we start steaming forward into 2020 and the decade ahead, it’s important to take a moment to step back and reflect on the year that’s gone.

Between launching new projects, contributing to the conservation of native species, developing new testing methods, expanding our team, and introducing new extension activities – wow was 2019 a big year!

Here’s a tiny little taster of all that we got up to…

Exciting projects

We were involved in some exciting projects in 2019. One new project is a genetic study of the Bogong moth, a key food source for the endangered mountain pygmy possum. The mountain pygmy possum is only found in the Australian alps above the winter snowline and the Bogong moth provides an important fat-rich springtime treat for hungry possums waking up from winter hibernation. Recently, an apparent large decline in numbers of Bogong moth migrating to the alps has raised concerns about how this will impact on mountain pygmy possum numbers. To help solve the mystery of the missing moths, our team will be using genetic analysis to develop a better understanding of the biology and behaviour of the Bogong moth.

The Great Australian Platypus Search (GAPS) – a collaboration between cesar, the University of Melbourne and San Diego Zoo – was also in full swing in 2019. Since spring 2018, we’ve taken and tested samples from 500 sites from across Victoria and New South Wales, with platypus presence detected at around a third of these locations.

Back in the lab, ourresearch scientists were part of a team that developed a novel bioassay for testing sensitivity shifts to neonicotinoids for two major crop pests: the red legged earth mite and lucerne flea. This will significantly simplify the process of screening for sensitivity shifts in these species.

In 2019, we said goodbye to a few special projects close to our heart that came to an end this past year. An ACIAR-funded project looking at novel pest management approaches for controlling the destructive cocoa pod borer in Papua New Guinea was undertaken by an international research team led by our research team lead, Dr Olivia Reynolds. Dr Reynolds’ team investigated the population structure cocoa pod borer found in PNG and tested a new approach for identifying artificial diets on which to raise cocoa pod borer in a laboratory setting. This important groundwork will support further research to help manage this major pest of the PNG cocoa industry.

After four years, we also wrapped up a project investigating insecticide resistance in aphids of oilseeds and pulse crops. Green peach aphid was the focus of this project and we found that the aphid exhibits some level of insecticide resistance to all five registered insecticide mode of action groups in grains. But we aren’t letting green peach aphid off the hook! Just as the project team signed off, we’ve started a new green peach aphid project in 2020 (more details coming soon!).

A growing team

2019 was an exciting year for our team with five new staff members joining us throughout the year. Dr Olivia Reynolds joined us as Team Lead – Research; our extension team doubled practically overnight with the addition of Francesca Noakes and Leo McGrane; Kathy Overton and Marielle Babineau both joined as our newest Research Scientists (Entomology); and, we have a new Finance Officer in the wonderful Rhian Reed.

Getting the word out there

We feel dizzy after a whirlwind of fieldwork and events across the country.

You may have heard us talking about the Crop Protection Forum over the last few months. The Crop Protection Forum 2019 was organised and hosted by cesar in Moama, New South Wales, on 3 December, in partnership with the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (AHRI), the Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM), GRDC and the University of Melbourne. Attended by a hundred agronomists, researchers and other industry professionals, we had speakers presenting the latest research on insecticide, herbicide and fungicide resistance risks and management strategies for the Australian grains industry. The forum provided an opportunity for the grains industry to discuss the major issues in the monitoring and management of resistance and consider effective strategies for minimising resistance risks into the future.

Despite spending much of her time travelling all across the south-east studying insect population trends, our amazing Research Scientist, Dr Elia Pirtle, still found time to win the Best Presenter award at the Plant Biosecurity Research Symposium in August. Her talk focused on the role that native parasitoid wasps play in controlling biosecurity threats, or as Elia calls them ‘tiny biosecurity officers’.

And as usual, if you were looking for our intrepid Senior Wildlife Ecologist, Josh Griffiths, the best place to start was in the waterways of Victoria.

Our team was also out and about presenting at grower field days and advisor updates, running insect ID master classes and facilitating expert elicitation sessions on dairy pasture pests. We even went international with our Director, Dr Paul Umina, presenting on insecticide resistance at the Rothamsted Research Institute’s Resistance ’19 in England.

Back in the office we were investigating new, fun ways to share information with you all. We launched new YouTube series, including PestBites and Doorstep Science providing useful pest management information that you can digest in the time it takes you to make a cup of tea.

It’s been a busy year, and there’s much more to come – so bring on 2020!

Cover image: Photo by Cesar Australia

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