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Rabbit virus program wins top award

Centre for Invasive Species Solutions board directors, staff, project leaders and collaborators pictured with the the Hon. David Littleproud MP Minister for Agriculture after receiving the Australian Biosecurity Award - Industry, at the awards ceremony. (L-R: Lyn O'Connell, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources; Johann Schroder, MLA; Emma Sawyers, NSW DPI; Murray Rankin, CISS, the Hon. David Littleproud Minister for Agriculture; Tarnya Cox, NSW DPI; Tanja Strive, CSIRO; Andreas Glanznig CISS; Jane Littlejohn, AWI; Bruce Christie, NSW DPI; and Helen Cathles, CISS).
Centre for Invasive Species Solutions board directors, staff, project leaders and collaborators pictured with the the Hon. David Littleproud MP Minister for Agriculture after receiving the Australian Biosecurity Award - Industry, at the awards ceremony. (L-R: Lyn O'Connell, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources; Johann Schroder, MLA; Emma Sawyers, NSW DPI; Murray Rankin, CISS, the Hon. David Littleproud Minister for Agriculture; Tarnya Cox, NSW DPI; Tanja Strive, CSIRO; Andreas Glanznig CISS; Jane Littlejohn, AWI; Bruce Christie, NSW DPI; and Helen Cathles, CISS).

The Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS) is honoured to receive one of the Australian Governments’ top biosecurity awards for its role in coordinating the release, monitoring and evaluation of a new rabbit biocontrol agent – the first nationally coordinated release in more than 20 years.

BRHDV1 K5 – a Korean strain of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus – was released across 323 community sites within Australia in March 2017. At the same time, CISS (formerly the Invasive Animals CRC) set up the National Rabbit Biocontrol Monitoring Program, to enable communities to effectively measure virus impact.

Andreas Glanznig, CISS CEO said the award showcases the value of strong collaboration across research, government and industry bodies.

“The release and subsequent monitoring and evaluation of RHDV1 K5 was a massive combined effort with investment and support from the Australian Government, all state and territory governments, the CSIRO and the livestock industry through Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI).

“Since 2009, the collaboration ensured that RHDV1 K5 was rigorously tested, assessed, registered and released at a national scale, consistent with our Centre’s rabbit biocontrol pipeline strategy outlining the need for new and additional biocontrol tools every eight to ten years, to keep rabbit populations at bay,” Mr Glanznig said.

Dr Tanja Strive, CSIRO Principal Research Scientist, who leads CISS’s biocontrol program said that this was first time a vertebrate pest biocontrol release was tracked digitally through the National Rabbit Biocontrol Monitoring Program.

“As part of this National Program, laboratory tools were developed to determine the spread and impact of different viruses, including RHDV1 K5 and RHDV2; an incursion of a new virus discovered in 2015.

“On-line rabbit-specific disease observation and sample submission tools, developed through RabbitScan, allowed participants within the community release sites to track the spread of virus, as well as collect population data counts pre and post release.

“Thanks to the support of the community, the Program collected more than 230 community release site data sets and has analysed more than a thousand rabbit tissue samples to paint a map of rabbit virus distribution in Australia over the past two years, with all data fully available to view online.

“Based on data collected through the strong collaboration with the community sites we saw an average reduction in rabbit numbers of 34%, one-month post release,” Dr Strive said.

Dr Jane Littlejohn, AWI General Manager of Research reiterated the importance of industry support and investment in such national collaborations.

“Both AWI and MLA are proud to involve ourselves in these national collaborations to ensure we are getting strategic vertebrate pest management tools into the hands of farmers, producers and land managers quicker, ensuring value for money and effort.

“We continue to invest, with MLA, in the Centre’s rabbit biocontrol program and look forward to it further develop and progress,” Dr Littlejohn said.

The Centre for Invasive Species Solutions accepts this award with thanks to a strong cooperative endeavour between the Australian Government, NSW Department of Primary Industries, SA Department of Primary Industries and Regions, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, NT Government, CSIRO, MLA, AWI and Rabbit Free Australia.

You can find a summarised version of preliminary results from the national release of RHDV1 K5 via our website.

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This article was first published in Leading Agriculture.

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