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Impacts of the invasive fungus Austropuccinia psidii (myrtle rust) on three Australian Myrtaceae species of coastal swamp woodland

Fernandez Winzer, Laura, Carnegie, Angus J., Pegg, Geoff S., Leishman, Michelle R.
Austral ecology 2018 v.43 no.1 pp. 56-68
Leptospermum laevigatum, Melaleuca quinquenervia, Myrtus communis, biomass, community structure, environmental impact, fungi, greenhouse experimentation, indigenous species, leaves, pathogens, plant communities, seedlings, swamps, woodlands, Australia, South America
Exotic fungal pathogens can substantially affect individuals and populations of susceptible native plant species, potentially resulting in changes in community structure and composition. Austropuccinia psidii (myrtle rust) is a pathogenic fungus native to South America that affects species in the plant family Myrtaceae. The pathogen was introduced accidentally to Australia and first detected in NSW in April 2010. Ecological impacts have been poorly studied in the native range of A. psidii and even less in its Australian introduced range. In order to assess the potential impact of A. psidii on coastal swamp woodland, two glasshouse experiments were conducted using three co‐occurring species: Melaleuca quinquenervia, Leptospermum laevigatum and Baeckea linifolia. Plants of each species were grown individually (Experiment 1) and in mixed species assemblages (Experiment 2), with half inoculated with A. psidii and the other half remaining as controls. Infection level was assessed and impact on seedling survival and growth recorded. In both experiments L. laevigatum and M. quinquenervia seedlings were heavily infected and showed high degrees of susceptibility with negative effects on growth (height, biomass and number of leaves). In contrast, no B. linifolia seedling presented visible symptoms of disease, although seedlings showed reduced growth. Melaleuca quinquenervia seedlings had greater infection levels and suffered greater growth reductions than L. laevigatum in both experiments. However, there was no significant difference in the relative abundance of the three species in the mixed‐species experiment. This study provides a better understanding of the potential impacts of A. psidii in this vegetation community and has significant implications for the conservation and management of Australian Myrtaceae‐dominated plant communities generally.