Community consequences of introducing a biological control agent

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: Biological Sciences

Abstract

In the UK, and much of Europe and the rest of the world, invasive weeds are destroying natural habitats through exclusion of native species, reduction of biodiversity, and removal of ecosystem services. Some invasive weeds even damage the groundwork of buildings, causing structural problems. The costs to the UK economy alone totals almost £2billion per year highlighting them as key targets for control or removal. Efforts to control these weeds is also problematic and expensive, partly due to lack of control measures and partly because of the vigorous nature of the plant spread and deep-rooted establishment of the plants. One of these problem plants is Impatiens glandulifera (Himalayan Balsam), which is now the most commonly occurring non-native plant species on riparian (riverside) systems in England and Wales. The plant severely reduces native plant and insect biodiversity and is expensive and difficult to control, because herbicides cannot be used near water courses. Balsam plants die off in winter, leaving exposed areas susceptible to erosion, while summer populations choke water courses, increasing the likelihood of flooding.
DEFRA selected Balsam as target weed for biological control, emphasising the importance of this research. In July 2014, CABI received Ministerial approval to release the rust fungus Puccinia komarovii var. glanduliferae, a pathogen of Himalayan Balsam found in Pakistan and India, at trial sites in the UK. This is the first approved release of a non-native fungal pathogen anywhere in Europe. It therefore provides a unique opportunity to determine the impact of the rust release on the plant and the communities it has invaded. It is important not just to examine what factors affect the efficacy of the rust in the field, but also how native plant communities recover as weed populations decline. This proposal is a joint one involving CABI, Royal Holloway, University of London and the University of Reading. Together, we will monitor rust relese, determine the factors that affect its establishment in the field and discover how invaded communities recover after balsam removal. We will conduct this research alongside DEFRA, who have pledged money to monitor rust release.
We will carry out a series of experiments to examine the impact of soil-dwelling beneficial fungi (termed arbuscular mycorrhizas) on rust infection. Mycorrhizas provide plants with essential nutrients and some species are known to increase susceptibility to foliar pathogens. We will also examine the foliar tissues of balsam plants, as these also contain fungi (termed endophytes). New research is emerging to suggest that microbes living on plant surfaces and inside plants could have anti-microbial effects on potential invading pathogens. It is critical to determine whether we can manipulate the plant's growth conditions to maximise the efficiency of the rust, either through encouraging microbes that help the rust or removing conditions for detrimental microbes.
This is a unique opportunity to discover how the native plant, insect and soil microbial communities start to recover after weed removal. Biocontrol is usually about reducing the health or performance of target organisms and to date it has generally been assumed that a native, diverse community will readily establish. However, we know that balsam somehow alters the soil to severely reduce growth of other plants. Thus, a key outcome of the study will be to determine how we can use beneficial microbes to allow native plants to recolonise. A particularly exciting part is that the mycorrhizal fungi which we hope to use to aid rust efficacy also have the potential to help native plants to grow, thus we will be able to develop a unique, double-headed strategy to have a genuine impact on the control of this weed.

Planned Impact

The aim of our research is to investigate the outcome of the interaction of the non-native fungal rust pathogen with its host Himalayan Balsam in UK invasion sites. Our two ultimate goals are to determine if there are growth conditions we can manipulate to help the efficiency of the rust infection; and to determine if the rust application will help to restore natural community structure and function. This proposal fits within the NERC strategic priority of Living With Environmental Change in the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative mode as it focuses on a serious problem of invasive weed biology in the UK, which can have dramatic consequences on ecosystem structure and function. Furthermore and from a human perspective, it addresses national economic issues through loss of ecosystem services and expense to control the weed. A number of groups aside from academics will also benefit from this work.
1. Engaging with industrial stakeholders. The private sector could benefit through the commercialisation of (1) beneficial microbe products discovered from the experiments and (2) through the development of ecosystem health monitoring technology. Point (1) has commercial potential, because we may either find root colonising fungi or bacteria that have a detrimental effect on the balsam. These may weaken the plant to enhance infection or we may find synergist foliar microbes that enhance the efficacy of the rust. Point (2) could also be developed with industry partners through development of a monitoring system e.g. an ELISA or PCR-based method to identify the presence or absence of community health markers.
2. Engaging with governmental organisations and policy makers. Government organisations and policy makers will benefit by having more detailed information on the efficacy and safety of the non-native rust fungus in the UK environment. This will not only benefit the national agenda for controlling invasive weeds, but could potentially also help inform practice and policy for biocontrol of invasive pests and pathogens. CABI already has excellent government connections that will help to disseminate information from the experiments as it becomes available.
3. Public engagement. The public will ultimately benefit through recovery of riparian ecosystems and restoration of native species. If the rust is successful in controlling the weed, then taxpayers will benefit through downgrading of weed control measures provided by councils. The public will also benefit from our outreach programmes, which will present the data that we generate, highlight the impact of weed invasion on ecosystem functioning, and show that UK science is responding to the public need to develop innovative control measures.
4. Training opportunities. The researchers will benefit from the research in terms of developing generic career skills, through the extensive staff development programmes in each of the three institutions. For example, training will be provided in presentations to both the scientific community and the public, preparation of manuscripts and grant applications, student supervision and participation in public engagement events. The PDRAs will be expected to participate in the 'Programme in Skills of Teaching to Inspire Learning' at each institution. Furthermore, each member of staff will receive scientific training at the leading edge of the discipline. The PDRA at RHUL will be trained in advanced mycological isolation methods and manipulation of the plant microbiome. Liaison with other mycologists at CABI will be invaluable here. The PDRA at Reading will be trained in next generation sequencing technology and the analysis of large data sets. The researcher at CABI will be trained in insect identification and the preservation and archiving of specimen data (insect and fungal). All three will receive training in experimental design and analysis.
 
Description 1. That populations of Himalayan balsam in the UK differ in their susceptibility to the pathogenic fungus that has been released as a biological control agent.
2. That infection of leaves by non-pathogenic fungi dramatically reduces the populations of other fungi in the roots.
3. These findings clearly show that there are strong interactions between the fungi within the plant, upholding our original hypotheses and making our objectives viable.
4. That the biological control agent's efficacy is affected by the presence of other fungi, in roots and shoots
Please note: these findings are not explicit on the web site given below, as we are in the process of writing the manuscripts for publication
Exploitation Route These findings will help to inform land managers when selecting biological control programme in the future. With further research, we will be able to tailor the programme to particular sites, enhancing the chances of success. Ultimately, this will result in more cost-effective management along transport systems (e.g. railways) and waterways, reducing the risk of flooding.
Sectors Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport

URL https://himalayanbalsam.cabi.org/
 
Description Landowners have participated in field trials using the biological control agent (a pathogenic rust fungus). There is potential to produce this commercially, judging by the interest shown by people who visited our stand at the Chelsea Flower Show. Our workshop at RHUL in January 2019 enabled us to inform practitioners and landowners in new techniques for the biological management of Himalayan balsam.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Influence on practice at Gatwick airport
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Technical adviser on EU LIFE funded RAPID (Reducing And Preventing Invasive alien species Dispersal) 2017-18
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact CABI have provided Himalayan balsam rust for release at approximately 25 sites across England. This also includes training of contractors; collation of data and reporting
 
Description Bannister Trust
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Organisation Warwickshire Wildlife Trust 
Start 01/2018 
End 12/2019
 
Description Biocontrol release programme for the control of aquatic and riparian invasive non-native plants in England: Himalayan balsam
Amount £20,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural England 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 03/2018
 
Description Biological Control project
Amount £14,000 (GBP)
Organisation Coal Authority 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 12/2020
 
Description DEFRA Biocontrol of Water Framework Directive Weeds
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Organisation Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (DEFRA) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 03/2020
 
Description DEFRA biological control / Natural England for rust release
Amount £20,000 (GBP)
Organisation Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (DEFRA) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2016 
End 07/2017
 
Description Implementation of a classical biological control strategy for Himalayan balsam using a rust fungus
Amount £9,000 (GBP)
Organisation Environment Agency 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 08/2018
 
Description Natural Resources Wales
Amount £14,000 (GBP)
Organisation Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (DEFRA) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 12/2019
 
Description Water Environment grant
Amount £35,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural England 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 12/2019
 
Title fungal endophyte collection 
Description We have developed a culture collection of fungi, most of which have been identified. When all pure cultures re identified, they will be deposited with CABI in their Culture Collection 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact None yet, as we await formal (molecular) identifications on some species 
 
Description Work with ICAR 
Organisation Indian Council of Agricultural Research
Country India 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are working with the ICAR Institutes to export of new isolates of rust from Indian Himalayas, following procedure required by the Access and Benefit Sharing under the CBD Nagoya Protocol.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of fungal isolates and allowance for exportation
Impact None to date
Start Year 2017
 
Description Work with Tame Valley Wetlands Trust 
Organisation Warwickshire Wildlife Trust
PI Contribution release of the rut fungus into field sites
Collaborator Contribution Monitoring of rust spread in field populations of balsam
Impact None to date
Start Year 2017
 
Description Work with local action groups and land managers 
Organisation Gatwick Airport Limited
PI Contribution CABI have provided the biological control agent (rust fungus) to Local Action groups and land managers at the above two airports.
Collaborator Contribution They have used the fungus in a weed management programme and have monitored its spread
Impact Data for spread of the rust fungus in different populations
Start Year 2017
 
Description Work with local action groups and land managers 
Organisation Heathrow Airport Holdings
Department London Heathrow Airport
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution CABI have provided the biological control agent (rust fungus) to Local Action groups and land managers at the above two airports.
Collaborator Contribution They have used the fungus in a weed management programme and have monitored its spread
Impact Data for spread of the rust fungus in different populations
Start Year 2017
 
Description A presentation to researchers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Dr Mojgan Rabiey provided a presentation entitled 'Monitoring impact of biocontrol on native microbial community' at the School of Biological Sciences (University of Reading) seminar series.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description A stand at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, entitled Finding natural solutions to invasive plant problems 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact CABI coordinated a stand at the Chelsea Flower Show, part of which featured the NERC-sponsored project on biological control of Himalayan balsam. The event ran from May 22-27 and was covered in press (Horticultural Week Daily Telegraph) and TV (BBC Newsroom South East, Mon May 22). The stand won a GOLD MEDAL and led to many subsequent inquiries and offers of land and help for the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description A talk at a local school's Biodiversity day - teacher conference, on Biological control of invasive weeds 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Alan Gange spoke at a School Teacher training day, on various outdoor activities, mainly featuring Himalayan balsam and its control. Teachers said they would use some of the studies mentioned in their outdoor activity classes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description A talk on weeds and why they are a nuisance at a school 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A talk to primary school students and their parents, to explain what invasive weeds are, why they cost the UK economy a lot of money and what biological control means. Over 50 people attended and the teachers reported increased pupil interest in biology and their surroundings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description An article for Rivers Trust newsletter, entitled Stranger in a strange land 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An article entitled Stranger in a strange land, detailed the biological control of Himalayan balsam along river banks in the UK. It was published by the Ouse & Adur Rivers Trust's magazine, read by general public, as well as Environment Agency and river managers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Appearance on BBC Countryfile 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As part of a feature exploring invasive plants and the potential for a natural solution for their control, the BBC came to film at CABI and at one of our field sites. The final piece described Himalayan balsam and why it is such a nuisance and then described our research on the rust fungus. The footage was aired on BBC1 and BBC 2.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Benefits and risks of biological control 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A talk on the benefits, risks and safety aspects of biological control to school students
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Biocontrol in the UK: finding natural solutions to invasive plant problems 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk by Suzy Wood at the Yorkshire Naturalist's Union, April 7th 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Biological control of Himalayan balsam 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Poster at the Royal Horticultural Society's postgraduate symposium, Nov 13th 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Biological control of Himalayan balsam 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact presenttion to the NERC Knowledge Exchange fellows, November 3rd 2016 at Royal Holloway
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Biological control of Himalayan balsam in Sussex 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The event was the 'Wild about Mid-Sussex' in Burgess Hill, June 2016 - We had a stand at this community event with Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) plants, including one infected with the biocontrol agent Puccinia komarovii var. glanduliferae. Microcopes were available to view foliar fungal endophytes and slides with roots colonised with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. This event was attended by the general public as well as the local MP Sir Nicholas Soames.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Biological control of invasive weeds: progress and potential in the UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk by Suzy Wood at the River Colne Catchment Area Network (ColneCAN) Conference, 30th December 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Biological control talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact An update on biological control in general and this project in particular, to Local Action Groups at their workshop on invasive species, organised by the GB non-native species secretariat, 27-28th January. There was an interactive exchange of practical problems and answers associated with biological control
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Blog about biological control 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A blog all about biological control of weeds
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://blog.invasive-species.org/2018/01/12/rust-fungus-opening-the-doors-for-biological-control-in...
 
Description Ecological effects of introducing a rust fungus to control Impatiens glandulifera in the UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Talk by Suzy Wood at our workshop
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Endophyte fungi in Himalayan balsam: a variable and hidden problem? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Alan Gange gave a talk at our workshop
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Himalayan balsam - what is a weed 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A talk on weeds and why they are a nuisance, at Great Walstead school, 14th June
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Implementing a novel weed management approach for Himalayan balsam: progress on biological control in the UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk by C Ellison to the Earley Environmental Group, Reading
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited poster at STEM for Britain Event, House of Commons 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Amanda Currie (PDRA on NERC grant) has been selected by MPs to present a poster on the biological control work at STEM for Britain, hosted by MPs at the House of Commons. The event takes place the day before the Researchfish deadline, so no impact yet
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation at INNS (Invasive non native species) Local Action Groups workshop, Preston Montford, Shrewsbury 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation on weed biological control projects that featured the work with Himalayan balsam. Participants came forth afterwards with requests for information and offers of assistance and field sites.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation at South East INNS (Invasive non-native species) Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A talk on biological control of invasive plants in general, which featured the Himalayan control project. Participants came forth afterwards with offers of help and field sites.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Release of a rust fungus for the classical biological control of Himalayan balsam in the UK: problems and progress 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Carol Ellison gave a talk at our workshop
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Restoration after rust: how are native communities responding to Himalayan balsam biocontrol, and can we improve their recovery? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact S Wood presented a poster at the XV International Symposium on Biological Control of Weeds 26-31 August 2018, Engelberg, Switzerland
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Searching for host-pathogen compatibility; how cpDNA analysis can aid successful classical biological control of Impatiens glandulifera 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact poster by C Ellison at the XV International Symposium on Biological Control of Weeds 26-31 August 2018, Engelberg, Switzerland
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Slot on BBC Gardener's World, 29 Sep 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The feature was entitled: Nick Bailey investigates a brand new way of combating Himalayan balsam. It was seen by a large public audience and brought forth many inquiries for further information and generated considerable interest in the subject area and the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Stall at RHUL Science Open Day, entitled 'Biological control of Himalayan balsam' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A stand at the Royal Holloway Science Open Day, targeting school students of all ages, plus their parents and general public. Many people said that they found it informative and now understood what biological control meant and why Himalayan balsam is such a problem weed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Talk at Amenity Forum annual meeting: Biological control of Himalayan balsam 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited talk by Alan Gange on biocontrol of Himalayan balsam at the Amenity Forum's annual meeting, entitled 'Keeping Britain moving' .The talk sparked questions and requests for advice from practitioners, landowners and policy makers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.amenityforum.co.uk/conference.html
 
Description The Alien invader 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact presentation on our work at the Royal Holloway Science Open Day, part of National Science week
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Weed management approaches for Himalayan balsam 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Description of the rust fungus release programme, 26th November to RiverSearch Annual meeting, Guildford
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Weed management in waterways 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact talk at the meeting entitled 'Water voles and non-native invasive species conference', 10th November organised by Affinity Water. An update on the progress of our project and the release of the rust fungus.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016