25 May 2021
An insect invasion expert from USC Australia will soon travel to the United States on a prestigious Fulbright Future Scholarship to help boost biosecurity between the two countries.
Dr Helen Nahrung, from USC’s Forest Research Institute, is the first researcher to receive the honour while employed at USC, one of Australia’s fastest-growing regional universities.
The scholarship will allow Dr Nahrung to travel to the US in May 2022 to examine the accidental importation of insects between Australia and the US, part of an “unwanted reciprocal exchange” of invasive species that each year costs Australia $14 billion and the US $210 billion.
“Invasive species, including pathogens and weeds, are the biggest driver of extinction, more so than climate change and habitat loss, so the impact on the economy and environment in each country is huge,” said Dr Nahrung.
“Invasive insects alone cause severe economic and environmental impacts globally, moving accidentally via trade and travel.
“The cottony cushion scale, for example, nearly destroyed the Californian citrus industry, while bark beetles that originated in America continue to cause ongoing losses to Australian forestry.”
The importance of this work was highlighted recently when the Australian Government allocated $370 million in its Federal Budget to boost biosecurity.
Dr Nahrung hopes findings from her visit to the United States could be used to influence trade or travel policy.
“We plan to use our improved bilateral understanding of insect movement between our respective countries to identify strategies to reduce the likelihood of future damaging invasions,” she said.
Dr Nahrung will be based for three months in West Virginia where she will work alongside a leading US invasion biologist looking at border interception data – the first time this data has been made available for this purpose.
“We will be looking for historical establishments of insect populations as well as patterns in insect movement,” she said.
“This is an exciting opportunity to work together to learn more about similarities and differences between our countries’ respective biosecurity systems. We can’t stop everything, but we need to be able to predict and prevent everything we can.”
USC Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Helen Bartlett said Dr Nahrung’s success was a great example of research occurring at a regional university that has global significance.
“We are thrilled that Dr Nahrung has this opportunity to take her very important skillset to the United States where it will help protect both the US and Australia from devastating invasive pests,” Professor Bartlett said.
USC is home to some of the world’s foremost researchers in their fields – from ecology to mental health, and sport science to sustainability. It was the eighth top Australian university in the 2021 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, excelling in categories for ‘Life Below Water’ (ranked 3rd in the world) and ‘Life On Land’ (ranked 5th in the world).
“As a regional university, we are rising with our regions as well as nurturing world-class research and expertise that has the power to make a global impact,” Professor Bartlett said.
The Fulbright Future Scholarship, funded by The Kinghorn Foundation is an award offered under the Fulbright Program, the United States Government’s most prestigious foreign exchange scholarship that aims to promote understanding and the exchange of ideas between the US and other countries.
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