Myrtle rust is a serious biosecurity threat, and help is needed to monitor its spread. This citizen science project aims to gather information on the location, hosts and intensity of this fungal disease.
This project utilises iNaturalist to capture observations of myrtle rust from across Aotearoa New Zealand. To participate, citizen scientists take pictures of myrtle species using a smartphone or camera and upload them to the iNaturalist project.
Reach: Regional, national
Nature of science focus: This project allows students to experience a range of aspects of the Nature of Science. From understanding how scientists use data, making observations and interpreting these to communicating and participating, the Myrtle Rust Reporter project provides opportunities to explore them all.
Science capability focus: The main capabilities for this project are ‘Gather and interpret data’ – participants make and record observations – and ‘Engage with science’ – participants contribute data towards a nationwide biosecurity issue.
Science focus: Biosecurity – this citizen science project provides a great way to get students thinking about protecting our environment.
Some suggested science concepts:
- New Zealand has species of plants that are only found here (endemic).
- Classification is an important skill for scientists.
- Fungi are a group of living things.
- Living organisms are interconnected.
Some examples of learning outcomes:
- accurately gather and log data
- use an identification key
- identify myrtle species
- explore fungi and their features
- consider and discuss biosecurity and its role in New Zealand.
About Myrtle Rust Reporter
Scientists urgently need information on the location of myrtle rust in New Zealand as plants in the Myrtaceae family (myrtles) are at risk of dieback and death. Reporting myrtle rust on iNaturalist provides valuable information to researchers, helping them to manage the spread of the disease.
The project asks you to take photos of disease symptoms and of the host plant.
You can take pictures using a smartphone within the app or a camera and upload them via the website later. Helpful images include:
- close-up images of symptoms (usually yellow powdery spores)
- images of the leaves and any flowers or fruit if present
- view of the plant(s) as a whole (if possible) to show the surrounding habitat/environment.
When you have a picture uploaded into iNaturalist, identify your observation as ‘myrtle rust’ or ‘Austropuccinia psidii’ in the ‘What did you see?’ field. The iNaturalist community will help confirm your observations. You can also add further information about the infection in the observation form. Repeated observations are welcome – every report helps to track changes in the disease.
You can add healthy trees too. Make observations of Myrtaceae when you see them as well, including images of leaves, flowers and fruit and of the whole plant.
Reduce the risk of spreading the disease
When taking part in the project, avoid brushing against plants. Use clean equipment and check it for spores when you leave a site. If you see yellow spores on your clothing, turn them inside out and store in a plastic bag before washing. Clean your hands with soap and water to remove and kill spores and wipe down your gear with alcohol-based products such as hand sanitisers or methylated spirits.
See the article Myrtle rust to find out more about how New Zealand has responded.
The Hub's series of national myrtle rust surveillance maps ranges from October 2018 to February 2021. Use the maps to view the disease's spread and to compare data from month to month. The maps are an ideal way to practise the science capability 'Interpret representations'.
Australian scientists are investigating a biotechnology tool called RNA interference as a potential means of combating myrtle rust.
The myrtle rust detection team uses PCR to identify myrtle rust spores. Find out about the PCR process in the article What is PCR?, which includes an animation that explains the three key steps involved in the PCR process.
Psa is another disease that has threatened New Zealand’s horticulture sector. Discover how scientists and industry worked to manage this disease in the article Kiwifruit – learning to live with Psa.
The Science Learning Hub team has curated a collection of resources with biosecurity as the context for learning. It includes suggestions on how to use images in this article to practise the science capabilities. Login to make this collection part of your private collection – just click on the copy icon. You can then add additional content, notes and make other changes. Registering an account for the Science Learning Hubs is easy and free – sign up with your email address or Google account. Look for the Sign in button at the top of each page.
iNaturalist hosts the Myrtle Rust Reporter citizen science project as well as many others.
Myrtle rust in New Zealand hosts resources for identifying and managing myrtle rust including flyers, posters and other materials that can be printed or shared through social media.
Visit the Ministry for Primary Industries Biosecurity New Zealand website for information about myrtle rust. It includes symptoms to look out for, advice to specific groups and more.
In this video from the BioHeritage Challenge, Ngā Koiora Tuku Iko, listen to Roanne Sutherland from Scion talking about monitoring myrtle rust.
See the range of resources under the Myrtle ora topic on the New Zealand’s Biological Heritage – Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho website.
MPI has developed online training courses about myrtle rust. The courses are available to everyone but are particularly suited to those running community education events. Register for the course here. A selection of the training videos are found here.
See what the Department of Conservation is doing about myrtle rust.
The Department of Conservation has put restrictions on beehive movements on public conservation land.
The New Zealand Plant Producers Incorporated website has extensive industry advice concerning myrtle rust.
Read about the New Zealand Indigenous Flora Seed Bank project to collect seeds of both threatened and common species – including the Myrtaceae family. This DOC blog gives insight into how the Myrtaceae seeds are collected – it is an enormous task.
Hear from Ngāti Porou about what monitoring they've been doing, and what taonga could be at stake and hear about the community-focused approach they are calling for from government in this TVNZ article with video included.
At the end of April 2021 it was announced that a successful trans-Tasman collaboration has enabled scientists to successfully sequence the genome of Austropuccinia psidii. Read the Landcare media release.