JAMES Cook University will place itself on the frontlines of Australia’s tropical biosecurity efforts with plans to build a $580,000 quarantine glasshouse facility in Cairns.
Set to be based at JCU’s Nguma-bada campus in Smithfield, Cairns, and in collaboration with the Australian Tropical Herbarium, the Northern Australia Plant Biosecurity Facility will be a firewall for quarantining and researching invasive weeds and new crop varieties for agricultural use.
Weed ecologist Dr Daniel Montesinos said the facility would be the only one of its kind in northern Australia, with the next closest in Brisbane.
“This facility will be a big boost for biosecurity in northern Australia and particularly for the Australian tropics, which has very different climates, natural habitats and biosecurity threats to the rest of Australia” he said.
“In scientific terms, it will allow us to understand how plants evolve to become invasive in the tropics, a process which can occur differently compared to other regions.
“And there’s other advantages, such as if you wanted to import plants for ornamental purposes, or a new crop variety.
“These would ordinarily need to go through a lengthy quarantine process in quarantine facilities further south to make sure they’re not carrying viruses or insects.”
With the new facility, Dr Montesinos said JCU’s industry partners will be able to do that on campus in Cairns.
Work on the facility is expected to start next year, with Dr Montesinos and his team receiving a $350,000 grant from the Australian Research Council Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme.
JCU and the Australian Tropical Herbarium, a partner in the facility, will contribute a further $230,000 to the project.
Dr Montesinos said that having the state-of-the-art facility based at JCU would enable research that was previously difficult to develop in the Australian tropics.
“Since tropical weeds are understudied, and it is difficult to develop tropical research in the available facilities further south, this will help to develop targeted research for tropical weeds,” he said.
“It will also help to reduce wait times on gathering important information about potential threats to native plant species in the north.”
The facility team will include Dr Daniel Montesinos, Associate Professor Lucas Cernusak, Associate Professor Lori Lach, Associate Professor Paul Nelson, Professor Susan Laurance and research students.