How Launceston-bred moths are helping in the fight against gorse

WEED KILLERS: Tasweed Biocontrol's Dr John Ireson and Joy Pfleger, outreach engagement officer with Landcare Tasmania. Picture: Joshua Peach
WEED KILLERS: Tasweed Biocontrol's Dr John Ireson and Joy Pfleger, outreach engagement officer with Landcare Tasmania. Picture: Joshua Peach

Landcare Tasmania is hoping a renewed effort to spread the gorse soft shoot moth will aid in a century-long fight against one of the state's most troublesome weeds.

Propelled by $15,000 in funding from long-time Landcare supporter, The JM Roberts Charitable Trust, the new program will help proliferate the moth to the North and North-West.

Originally introduced from Europe in the early 1800s, gorse is now declared a weed on both a state and federal level, due to its negative impact on agricultural and bushland. Gorse seeds can remain dormant in the ground for up to three decades waiting to sprout, making the removal of the weed an expensive and labour-intensive effort.

Gorse seeds can remain dormant in the ground for up to 30 years. Picture: File

Gorse seeds can remain dormant in the ground for up to 30 years. Picture: File

The gorse soft shoot moth, first introduced to Tasmania in 2007, was one of several gorse-specific insects brought to Tasmania to battle the plant.

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However, more than a decade later, moth numbers remain low in the state's North-West, prompting a more hands-on approach to speed up their proliferation and hasten the impact on the fast-spreading gorse.

That's what brought the Landcare team to the outskirts of Launceston, where the family of Strathroy Pastoral managing director Ben Grubb have been battling the weed's impact on their wool and beef operation for more than three generations.

"The gorse is winning. We need to do whatever we can and it's going to take a multi-pronged approach," Mr Grubb said.

Landcare Tasmania outreach engagement officer Joy Pfleger was among the team out in the Strathroy fields, where the moth has already been introduced, to collect gorse moth caterpillars for distribution elsewhere.

"We're focused on spreading the moths to different sites, like parks and farmland in the North and North-West. As we release the caterpillars across the state, we can also see how far the moths have managed to spread on their own," she said.

Despite the introduction of numerous species to battle gorse over the last few decades, the weed has continued to thrive.

Researchers are hoping a more widespread introduction of gorse soft shoot moth will ultimately help hinder the weed's spread, as the moth can help introduce a natural fungus known to trigger gorse dieback and is less susceptible to existing predators than other introduced species.

This story Moths help in the century-long fight against invasive weed first appeared on The Examiner.