Kauri seeds may be the key

The Northland Age - - Front Page -

One of the big­gest kauri seed col­lec­tions to be un­der­taken in decades is un­der way across the up­per North Is­land, in an ef­fort to identify trees that are re­sis­tant to kauri dieback.

The col­lec­tion, from more than 500 trees, is part of the Scion-led Healthy Trees, Healthy Fu­ture (HTHF) pro­gramme fo­cused on re­search­ing and com­bat­ing sev­eral Phy­toph­thora species, in­clud­ing Phy­toph­thora agath­idi­cida, aka kauri dieback.

Four­teen 14 iwi/hapu¯ groups, in­clud­ing Omahuta, Te Roroa, Te Rarawa, Te Rawhiti, Ngati Hine, Ngati Re­hia and Te Uri o Hau, are work­ing with re­searchers from Scion, Manaaki Whenua — Land­care Re­search and pro­fes­sional tree climbers from BioSense to col­lect cones, which ma­ture be­tween Fe­bru­ary and April, from the Far North down to Tau­ranga.

The project depends upon the cones be­ing collected while still on the tree, so the par­ent trees can be iden­ti­fied, and more can be gath­ered if they are found to be re­sis­tant. The cones are sent to Scion, in Ro­torua, where some of the seeds are raised in a spe­cial poly­house with strict hy­giene precaution­s.

Seeds not used this year will go to a seed bank for iwi/hapu¯ to use in re­search or restora­tion.

“By tak­ing seed from ma­ture trees, we’re hop­ing to get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the range of ge­netic re­sis­tance present. This is one part of un­der­stand­ing why and how some trees suc­cumb to dieback and oth­ers re­main ap­par­ently dis­ease-free,” pro­gramme leader Dr Nari Wil­liams said.

When the seedlings are 15 months old they are sent to Land­care Re­search in Auck­land, where they are flooded with wa­ter con­tain­ing Phy­toph­thora agath­idi­cida to en­cour­age in­fec­tion. Re­searchers mon­i­tor them to see how the dis­ease takes hold and how long they sur­vive.

They are also an­a­lysed to see what chem­i­cal re­ac­tions are trig­gered, in the hope that one might neu­tralise the dis­ease.

“Although early days, it’s start­ing to get re­ally ex­cit­ing,” Dr Wil­liams said.

“The team at Land­care Re­search have started to see a range of re­sponses to how the plants suc­cumb to in­fec­tion. There is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween un­der­stand­ing what hap­pens in the glasshouse and how vul­ner­a­ble trees are within the for­est, but it gives us hope for the fu­ture of kauri.”

The team from BioSense is co­or­di­nat­ing the col­lec­tion teams, iwi en­gage­ment, cul­tural safety and hy­giene pro­to­cols, and the ship­ping of the cones, en­sur­ing that no soil, wa­ter or or­ganic mat­ter is trans­ferred be­tween sites, and that cul­tural safety and com­pe­tency are demon­strated by all re­searchers at all times.

The pro­gramme will end in Septem­ber but the re­searchers hope to con­tinue the work in part­ner­ship with iwi/ hapu.

PIC­TURE / SUP­PLIED

Rongo Bentson (Te Rarawa) at work col­lect­ing kauri cones.

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