South Western Australia Biodiversity Hotspot is an ancient continental landscape and has a very high diversity of plant species. In fact, it is known in ecological science as a biodiversity hotspot - and is therefore of global significance.
However, phytophthora cinnamomi is a fungal disease that is seriously threatening many of these already threatened, endemic species in this ear (e.g. banksias, jarrahs and grass trees)*. It can affect up to 40% of Western Australian native plants and has infected over 1 million hectares of Western Australia. When infected, plants often die and so it has the ability to severely change the ecology of the landscape and potentially drive some rare, endemic plant species to extinction. *Full article here
Minimising disease spread and infection rates with Biochar?
Effort is currently focussing on preventing the spread of disease by minimising movement of soil and plant material. Biochar production could be used to dispose of any infected waste on site, and convert it safely into biochar - destroying all pathogens during the pyrolysis process. The biochar used could be used in agriculture in Western Australia (or indeed in other states) where it is particularly beneficial when used in the the nutrient poor soils that characterise the area.
In the UK, they are facing a similar problem from an organism threatening the existence of all ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior) or hymenoscyphus fraxineus (Ash dieback). There is a lot of investment in trying to combat this disease as if it continues to spread, it will change the UK's countryside significantly.
A recent article published in the British Biochar Foundation's (BBF) Newsletter presents results that biochar incorporation to the soil around ash tree roots appears to be able to help combat ash dieback by enhancing the plant's defences**. These results are only preliminary at the moment but further research is being conducted.
Could such a technique help combat plant diseases in Australia?
** full BBF article here