Climate change, extreme weather events and increasing habitat modification are acting together to have a detrimental effect on the range and spread of animal pests, weeds and pathogens in Australia. Coupled with this, increasing human population size, shifting demographics and changing land-use is straining the environment. This pressure complicates pest management and dramatically increases the risk of multi-species diseases occurring.
Experts currently believe that the majority of emerging diseases are of a multi-species, or zoonotic, nature, meaning they are transferred from animals to humans. Powerful examples of zoonotic diseases include; rabies, plague and a variety of intestinal parasites.
This type of biosecurity threat has been featured in the news recently after a large proportion of Asian tiger mosquitoes were discovered in northern Queensland. This breed of mosquito can carry diseases such as dengue fever and yellow fever and poses a threat to the Australian public.
By investigating the timing and magnitude of the tropical mosquito population decision-makers can determine the optimal level of mosquito control to reduce the risk of disease outbreaks in human populations. For example in 2009, Environment Institute members Professor Barry Brook and Professor Corey Bradshaw conducted a study which investigated the mosquito population in northern Australia. They suggested that targeted control, such as spraying in early September, of mosquito breeding areas may allow for more effective control of mosquitoes close to human settlement, and therefore reduce the likelihood of disease outbreaks amongst humans.
Environment Institute member Associate Professor Phillip Cassey, an expert in biosecurity, believes that Australia needs to take notice of the research at the forefront of developing climate-change forecasting methods. This type of research can downscale data from global climate material to a scale that is ecologically beneficial for Australia.
Using climate and ecological data, Professor Cassey believes it is vitally important that Australia looks to:
- Develop user-friendly simulations to predict responses, and changes in distribution, of existing invasive species, emergence of new invasive ‘sleeper’ species, and the spread and transmission of diseases in Australia under likely scenarios of climate change and habitat modification.
- Contribute specialist expertise in information technologies such as, the use of remote sensing in combination with current data and models to identify and monitor for emerging diseases and habitat pests.
- Investigate the adoption of current techniques for tracking changes in mating systems, increasing genetic diversity, or shifts in gene patterns that could indicate the imminent risk of shifting from a ‘sleeper’ pest or weed to a problematic invasive species.