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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Rust Belt

Author: Guest Writer/Saturday, January 28, 2012/Categories: Uncategorized

The idea of a rust belt conjures images of derelict steel mills or long abandoned auto plants covered, well, in red rust of industrial strength. It isn’t a pretty sight. Far less well known are rusts that impact the natural world, particularly plants.

Plant rusts are diseases caused by pathogenic fungi of which nearly 7800 species are known. Rusts can affect all plants from their leaves, stems, and roots, to their fruits and seeds. An outbreak of Myrtle Rust has been spreading like a wildfire along the Australian east coast states of New South Wales and Queensland. It was only identified having reached Australia---probably somehow from South America---less that one year ago. The rust turns leaves yellow and can devastate both native and introduced plants and trees.

According to The Australian myrtle rust has become "probably the biggest threat to Australia's ecosystems" ever discovered.

myrtle-rust     myrtle-rust-agonis

Myrtle Rust disease outbreak            Myrtle Rust

(credit: The Australian)                    (credit: NSW Biosecurity)

The list of plants that Myrtle Rust affects is a long one. However, the most horrific aspect of the fungus having reached Australia is that, as the name implies, myrtles are members of the Myrtaceae the primary forests of Australia. This huge family of plants, includes species of native trees such as eucalyptus (gum trees), melaleucas (tea trees and paperbarks) and callistemons (bottlebrushes) represents nearly 80 per cent of all the trees species in Australia. Myrtle Rust spores can be spread by wind, insects, birds, humans---almost any transport vector. Aussie officials have said that "This has been the pinnacle of pathogens we wanted to keep out of Australia." For a continent that knows about invasive species, this is making quite a statement.

If there was ever was a need for collaborative efforts at rust belt control, this is it. No one needs adding dead forests on a continent-wide scale to heaps of industrial wastelands.



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