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PBCRC surveillance research is delivering tools, technologies and systems that will help in detection and monitoring of plant pests and diseases. The ‘Surveillance Impact Theme Area’ will deliver enhanced tools, technologies and systems that contribute to enhancing our national plant biosecurity surveillance system, which is vital to detecting early signs of possible invasions of new exotic plant pests, and also to confirm area freedom.

The ability to demonstrate the absence of significant pests through evidence based surveillance systems allows Australia to maintain trade opportunities, negotiate access to new overseas markets and ensure the profitability and viability of plant industries. Monitoring and surveillance also enables Australia to direct and scale its response to incursions or manage the further spread of plant pests, minimising the impact of Emergency Plant Pests (EPP).

Australia (and New Zealand) remain free from many pests that affect agriculture and the environment in other countries. This favourable status provides Australia’s agricultural and horticultural industries with an advantage in global markets. However there are now significant pressures on the biosecurity system including global tourism and trade – which has been increasing at a rapid rate – as well as a changing climate. Intervention at country and state borders can help prevent the introduction of pests and diseases, however a strong biosecurity surveillance system is needed to detect those organisms that escape border controls.

The costs associated with a pest or disease incursion can be very high for farmers, industry, the community, the environment and the economy. Vigilant surveillance based on science plays a major part in managing incursions and preventing outbreaks. Imagine an outbreak of a disease that has the potential to affect swathes of our wheat crops – karnal bunt is one such disease. An outbreak of Karnal bunt could cost Australia up to $1 billion per annum due to loss of export markets and downgrading of grain quality. In 2004 Australian wheat exports to Pakistan were disrupted when Karnal bunt was erroneously identified. The perception, whilst incorrect, halted market access to many countries (National Plant Biosecurity RD&E Strategy, 2013).

There is strong recognition from government of the vital importance of biosecurity surveillance for Australia’s economy and to ensure a strong future for the agricultural sector. Recently, the Australian Government announced the investment of “an additional $200 million over four years to improve biosecurity surveillance and analysis capability” (Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, 2015).

PBCRC surveillance research has practical application including the potential for:

  • Remote surveillance detection technologies (e.g. unmanned aerial systems, infrared cameras, biosensors and smart traps) and improved trapping methods (e.g. pheromone lures)

  • Refinement of pest surveillance plans and quarantine zones to reduce trade disruptions and cost to industry and government

  • Development of smarter technologies to deliver more effective and efficient surveillance to support ‘Low Pest Prevalence’ designation for market access


News articles

1. Unmanned aircraft systems helping crop surveillance

For years it's worked the same way when trying to find signs of pests and diseases in crops that often stretch for miles - a crop consultant stands in front of a 250-acre wheat field, knowing there is 10,000 more acres out there to scout. He walks a recommended pattern looking for signs of pest damage and potential yield losses. Often the consultant makes an assessment based on a small area of land and from a reduced vantage point and then moves on to the next field, especially when time is limited. This is where the promise of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) comes in, with the potential to make crop pest detection much easier, quicker and more informed. Read more.

2. Getting smart on surveillance with smart-traps

Ryan Schmid from Kansas State University is a PBCRC PhD student working on smart-trap design and deployment for Hessian fly, which is a widespread wheat pest across much of the wheat belt in the US. If Hessian fly was to establish in Australia it could result in annual losses of 5 -15 percent, especially if proper management techniques are not practiced. Early detection of an incursion of Hessian fly, which is the aim of this project, is key to the quarantine and eradication of this invasive pest. Read more.

3. Design and evaluation of targeted biosecurity surveillance systems

Pests such as phylloxera, potato cysts nematode and fruit fly pose significant threats to the industries they affect, and have a huge impact economically. Through the PBCRC project 'Design and evaluation of targeted biosecurity surveillance systems', research collaborators from multiple states are integrating information about infestations in order to understand the spread of these pests to mitigate the risk of them spreading into new areas. Researchers are looking at how to design biosecurity surveillance systems that are more effective and economical so industry can better detect and manage plant pests and diseases. Read more.

4. New technologies for rapid surveillance

Exotic insect pests and diseases can have a significant economic impact on Australia’s broadacre grains industry - affecting plant health, decreasing yields and halting access to important export markets. To tackle the problem, PBCRC researchers are working on new, cost-effective technologies for rapid surveillance in the field. Read more about these interesting tech such as smart insect traps, a mobile jet spore sampler and insect suction trap.

5. Working together for plant biosecurity

When it comes to plant biosecurity, who is responsible? The simple answer is everyone. Plant biosecurity is a shared responsibility between the government, industry, landholders, natural resource managers and the community and relies on strong and collaborative partnerships, particularly in the event of a response to an incursion. The PBCRC research project Advancing Collaborative Knowledge Systems for Plant Biosecurity Surveillance aims to better understand how stakeholders source and evaluate information, how they manage and use different kinds of information, and how the engagement pathways they use can be improved. Read all about this project and also download the Engagement for Collaboration tool brochure.

6. New surveillance strategies for natural dispersal of pests and pathogens

The biosecurity risk posed by the introduction of plant pest and pathogens into Australia through travel, trade and transport networks is relatively well known. Not so wind-assisted natural dispersal, which has been previously identified in PBCRC research as a very real but under-estimated plant biosecurity risk to Australian horticulture. Effective management of incursions requires early detection and intervention to reduce the chances of entry. A new PBCRC project will outline new surveillance strategies to better quantify and contain this risk. Read more.


Case Studies

Blowing in the wind

New research on natural dispersal pathways of pests is helping preparedness and surveillance to increase early detection of pests that may have a major economic impact on Australian food industries.



Biosecurity is everyone's responsibility

To improve partnerships during an incursion, the research project Advancing Collaborative Knowledge Systems for Plant Biosecurity Surveillance aims to better understand how stakeholder groups source and evaluate information, how they manage and use different kinds of information and how the partnerships they use can be improved.


The lure of Q-fly control

PBCRC is undertaking research that will lead to the development of a cost competitive commercial female Queensland fruit fly lure that will potentially reduce production losses by an estimated $40 million per year for our horticultural industries.



Research Projects

PBCRC research investments in surveillance include:


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