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A handy tool to identify future biosecurity threats


26 April 2023

An app is available that matches areas in New Zealand with other parts of the world that have a similar climate, providing a view of where future successful pest incursions could originate and enabling more effective preventative measures.

The tool is based on the premise that pests which occur in regions and countries with climatic conditions similar to New Zealand are more likely to establish here, either now or under future climates. The app, the Climate Matching Tool, aims to:

1. Provide New Zealand agencies with climate comparisons with other countries, in a range of current and future climate scenarios.

2. Identify how well the climate a species inhabits overseas matches our own.

3. Match climates between about 1000 overseas locations to help analysts take a more nuanced approach to evaluating biosecurity risks along international supply chains.

4. Provide more information for assessing the risk of incursions from certain products.

5. Help Biosecurity New Zealand identify risk pathways for biosecurity purposes.

The modelling app was developed by Craig Phillips, senior scientist at AgResearch and researcher for Better Border Biosecurity (B3), in collaboration with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and software developers Epi-Interactive Ltd.

The original idea for a climate modelling app came from MPI’s Plant Risk Assessment team and was funded by B3 and MPI’s Operational Research Programme, which encourages employees to propose ideas for improving processes and operations.

“We are proud to support the development of this tool that connects research and practical application and look forward to realising its potential,” says Senior Adviser Ursula Torres, who worked alongside Hossein Narouei-Khandan, Specialist Adviser for Plant Pest and Emerging Risk Assessment in the development.

The app is available now but there are further developments in the pipeline. In the next stage, the app will provide researchers and agencies with a relatively quick, accessible means of sketching climatic risk profiles, compared to current more complex ones that may provide higher levels and layers of data, but are harder and take much longer to operate.

“The app’s ability to integrate with other datasets, highlights its efficiency,” says Craig Phillips.

“For example, the brown marmorated stink bug is a very real biosecurity risk for New Zealand.

By downloading its registered occurrences as reported in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), then loading those results into the climate-modelling app, you will get an indication of how likely something like the stink bug would be able to survive New Zealand’s climate.

“The answer, as we know, is ‘very likely’ and the information from the modelling app will provide a good starting point for risk assessment.”

Early indications from users including MPI have been positive and the app is already helping identify risk pathways for biosecurity purposes.

Craig is currently working to develop another predictive tool with AgResearch weed ecologists, Graeme Bourdot, Shona Lamoureaux, Alasdair Noble and Chris Buddenhagen for future weed incursions that also involves climate-matching. It is helping identify which weeds could either be ‘knocking on the door’ at New Zealand’s border or are already being cultivated here and are likely to escape and naturalise.

“Of course, this is an area many growers and farmers are interested in. Like MPI, they can also use the climate-matching ability to identify offshore localities that are particularly risky for pests,” says Craig Phillips.”

“For Biosecurity Business Pledge members in relevant sectors, this tool will provide valuable insight for awareness and planning. Many Pledge members are working to define their most important offshore pest threats so they can implement strategies to reduce the chances of pests settling in and establishing in New Zealand. We hope this tool will help them to assess those risks,” says Craig.

Visit the Climate Matching Tool