Plant biosecurity is the actions individuals, industries, governments and others take to keep plant pests and diseases from entering or moving around Australia. The goal of plant biosecurity is to keep plants, including those in botanic gardens, healthy and productive.
Biosecurity has played a critical role in reducing risk and shaping our nation to remain free from some of the world’s most damaging plant pests. This is vital as exotic plant pests are capable of damaging our natural environment, destroying our food production and agriculture industries, and some could change our way of life.
Australia’s biosecurity system
Australia’s biosecurity system helps protect us from exotic plant pests which are capable of damaging our natural environment, agriculture industries and way of life. Biosecurity is a collaborative effort between federal and state governments, industry and the broader community and is a continual process involving activities offshore, at the border and onshore.
While Australia has a world class biosecurity system as long as international trade and people movement occurs there will always be the risk that new plant pests will enter the country. Pests can also be spread to Australia through natural pathways, such as wind and water currents.
Botanic gardens and plant health
The living plant collections found within botanic gardens and arboretums are a unique resource that can provide vital information regarding plant health. Australia has over 150 botanic gardens and arboreta that are spread all around the country. These botanic gardens and arboreta hold a range of native flora, exotic species from all over the world and relatives of commercial crop species.
Due to the way in which the living collections in botanic gardens are organised and the movement of staff and visitors, botanic gardens and arboreta can be especially vulnerable to the impact of invasive plant pests and diseases. Botanic gardens and arboreta are visited by millions of people each year creating a risk of new pests or diseases entering on clothing or footwear.
Botanic gardens will often have biosecurity policies and procedures to ensure that activities within the gardens will not affect the collections of the botanic garden or the wider environment. Careful planning, preparation and management of plant material, good record keeping and robust procedures can help safeguard biodiversity and avoid serious environmental and economic impact.
However, because of this risk in combination with the diverse range of plants in botanic gardens they provide a unique tool in detecting and responding to plant pests.
Surveillance opportunities in botanic gardens
The staff and volunteers that work in the gardens are knowledgeable and passionate people, who with training and awareness of current threats, can become additional ‘eyes and ears’ for first detection plant pests and diseases. Those that work within botanical gardens generally care about safeguarding not only the plants they work with, but also plant species in the wider environment. Staff and volunteers work with plants in the collections daily and are able to recognise, monitor and record changes in plant health quickly and accurately.
As such, ongoing surveillance for pests and diseases through a national botanic gardens network has been identified as a significant opportunity to improve Australia’s biosecurity system, benefiting commercial production, amenity landscapes and plantings, and the environment. This has resulted in the establishment of a Botanic Gardens staff surveillance project and the Botanic Gardens Biosecurity Network.