Weeding out a $4 billion problem

19 Jun 2018

weedsResearchers from the University of Queensland have developed new ways to reduce the spread of invasive weeds into sensitive habitats.

Weeds cost Australian agriculture at least $4 billion per year, a figure that doesn’t account for impacts on the environment through reduced biodiversity and on human and animal health.

The Queensland power company, Powerlink, collaborated with the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences’ Professor Steve Adkins and colleagues in a study of seed dispersal.

The company uses its utility vehicles to install and replace electrical lines.

“Cars and other vehicles help spread plants, including invasive ones by readily picking up seeds as they drive over, or near, weeds,” Professor Adkins said.

“The vehicles we studied each carried up to 400 seeds, mostly alien to Queensland and even Australia.

“The seeds are often in mud and stuck on mudguards and under the vehicle, or carried into the cabin by the driver,” said Professor Adkins.

“To reduce the spread of invasive weeds, we recommend that vehicles be washed thoroughly after travelling over weed-infested areas.”

The researchers recommend a two-minute treatment at a roadside wash-down facility, followed by 10 to 15 minute wait to allow mud to form before a final wash.

wash facility

“Little attention has been given to the spread of seeds by vehicles,” Professor Adkins said.

“One Queensland study found 335,000 viable seeds from 145 species, mostly weeds, in the sludge pit of an automatic road-side wash down facility.

“Rather than responding to a weed invasion that has occurred, we are trying to be proactive.”

“Each year, 40 million people in India suffer from allergies to parthenium weed, the pollen of which causes dermatitis and bronchitis.

“The seeds are tiny, so they easily attach themselves to vehicles,” he said.

The research findings were published recently in Austral Ecology (doi:10.1111/aec.12545).

Media: Dominic Jarvis, dominic.jarvis@uq.edu.au, +61 413 334 924.