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Marsden Fund Boost For Invasive Plant Research

A research project headed by Lincoln University Plant Biosecurity Distinguished Professor Philip Hulme will focus on finding new methods for managing potentially invasive plant species.

The study investigates why some non-native ornamental plants become environmental weeds and aims to help forecast and prevent future biological invasions.

The Government has just announced a $798,000 boost for the project, with the grant to be distributed over the next three years through the 2020 Marsden Fund, which supports world-leading research.

Prof Hulme and his team will look at whether the prices of non-native ornamental plants, as well as their popularity with gardeners, contribute to them becoming invasive.

“Ornamental plants are the primary source of environmental weeds worldwide,” said Prof Hulme.

“These weeds pose serious threats to the natural environment and environmentally-based economic sectors. It’s not well understood why some non-native species escape from cultivation to become invasive weeds when others don’t.

“This research will test the hypothesis that non-native ornamental plant species become invasive as a result of factors that affect demand for garden plants: gardener preferences for particular biological attributes, as well as plant prices.”

Prof Hulme said the research would integrate economics, biology and human behaviour to forecast future biological invasions by non-native ornamental plants.

“We’ll use an extensive collection of historical nursery catalogues to assess how the risk of plant invasions is shaped by the price, prevalence and popularity of non-native plants in terms of their biological attributes.”

A clearer understanding of the behavioural and economic drivers of ornamental plant invasions will underpin the development of more successful methods to manage potentially invasive plant species.

“The current approaches are based on sales and import bans but a broader plan is needed,” he said.

Distinguished Professor Hulme won the Hutton Medal from the Royal Society Te Aparangi in 2019 for his “outstanding contributions to knowledge about plant invasions in New Zealand”.

He currently leads the Biosecurity Theme in the Bio-Protection Research Centre, a Centre of Research Excellence hosted by Lincoln University. The centre was established in 2003 to drive innovation in sustainable approaches to pests, pathogens and weed control.

The centre has seven partner institutes: Lincoln University, AgResearch, Massey University, Plant & Food Research, Scion, the University of Canterbury, and the University of Otago, with members throughout New Zealand.

The Marsden Fund

Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden, the Marsden Fund, supports excellence in science, engineering, maths, social sciences and the humanities in New Zealand by providing grants for investigator-initiated research. For more information about the Marsden fund and how grants are allocated, click here.

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