Naming and shaming Australia’s most unwanted pests

Varroa destructor

The 1.5mm-long parasite, Varroa destructor, is the apex pest of honey bees worldwide, hindering the beneficial insects’ ability to pollinate a range of fruit, vegetable, flower and nut crops. (Image courtesy of the US Dept. Of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service)

Crippled plant industries, trade suspensions and a devastated environment—Australia’s Top 40 National Priority Plant Pests have damaging potential, from vine-attacking bacteria to a giant snail. Australian Chief Plant Protection officer, Dr Kim Ritman, said the Top 40 pests include a range of exotic invertebrates and pathogens that pose the most significant threat on a national scale. 

“These 40 most unwanted pests are not yet present or not widely established in Australia and we want to keep it that way. Our strong biosecurity system does most of the work, but everybody has a role to play too,” Dr Ritman said.

“If these pests were to come to Australia, our $30 billion broadacre and horticulture crops and forestry industries could be devastated and our environment and economy would be severely affected.

“While by no means the only plant pests of biosecurity concern, the Top 40 serves to highlight the serious plant pest threats Australia faces.

“The risks these pests pose are real and growing. Number one on our Top 40 is Xylella fastidiosa, which is currently destroying olive tree groves in Italy and is known to infect more than 350 plant species in 89 plant families.

“A study has also estimated that a Xylella incursion into an iconic wine growing region like the Barossa Valley or the Hunter Valley could cost up to $4.2 billion in losses over 19 years.

High on the list are internal and external mites of bees (Acarapsi woodi, Tropilaelaps spp., Varroa spp.)

“While the biosecurity work we do in Australia—off-shore, at our borders, and on-shore—helps manage the risk, support from the public is crucial in making sure these pests never get here.

“By not bringing plants or seeds into Australia through the airport or mail and keeping an eye out and reporting any unusual pest or disease symptoms, we can work together to safeguard Australia’s industries and unique environment.”

The Top 40 pests were recently endorsed by Plant Health Committee, Australia’s top committee for plant biosecurity. They were identified through a national expert elicitation process, which considered the economic, social and environment threats the pests posed to Australia.

They will be used to guide future work to strengthen Australia’s biosecurity system, by identifying any gaps in prevention and preparedness and regularly reviewing the nation’s capability to manage each of the pests.

More information on Australia’s Top 40 National Priority Plant Pests is available at:

How you can help

  • Don’t bring plants or seeds into Australia through the airport or mail and tell your family and friends abroad to do the same.
  • Keep an eye out for any unusual plant pests or disease symptoms and if you see something, report it:

o   Growers and home gardeners report to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881

o   To report pests on imported goods phone 1800 798 636  Ω

Posted 19 September 2016