New software to help protect Australia from wind-borne threats

By Fiona McFarlaneNovember 26th, 2015

Wind helps the spread of some serious environmental pests within Australia, and now a new online tool for modelling the dispersal of living organisms is helping prepare for and respond to these wind-borne threats.
Dandelion Seeds blowing in the wind

New software can be used to study long-distance wind dispersal relevant to many fields including biogeography, ecology, pollen allergens, dust and smoke. Image: Essie/Flickr CC2.0

CSIRO, along with the Bureau of Meteorology and Intersect, has launched a new, easy to use, online tool for modelling the dispersal of living organisms, helping Australia – and the world – better prepare for and respond to wind-borne threats.

Myrtle rust on a leaf of Callistemon
Green leaves of a Callistemon bush showing yellow blemishes which are Myrtle Rust.

Myrtle rust on a species of Callistemon, ‘Hannah Ray’.

Wind plays an important role in contributing to the spread of some of the most serious environmental pest incursions and diseases in Australia, including the ‘innocent’ sounding Myrtle rust and the highly contagious, insect-borne bluetongue virus.

More recently and looking abroad, an avian influenza outbreak in the US, which has resulted in the death of some 48 million turkeys/chickens and cost the nation in excess of $3.3 billion, also sees ‘wind’ being blamed as a contributor to prolonging this costly incursion.

“With natural spread being an important pathway for many invasive organisms TAPPAS can have particular value in understanding and quantifying such biosecurity risks,” Dr Rieks van Klinken, the CSIRO project leader, said.

“However, the many challenges posed when attempting to survey wind-borne threats has meant that monitoring these risks has often required extensive resources and long time frames.”

TAPPAS – Tool for Assessing Pest and Pathogen Airborne Spread – overcomes these issues by providing a user-friendly interface, that has instant access to global air circulation data from the Bureau of Meteorology’s numerical weather prediction model, the dispersion model HYSPLIT and knowledge of the organism’s biology. Users can view their results via risk maps and downloadable data files.

“We have designed Version 1 to help researchers, policy-makers and practitioners address questions of biosecurity risk however, we have specifically designed the software to be flexible and adaptable,” Dr van Klinken said. “TAPPAS can be programmed to study long-distance wind dispersal relevant to many fields including biogeography, ecology, pollen allergens, dust and smoke.”

Visualisation showing how wind can carry pests
graphical illustration showing a map of northern Australia and surrounding areas with colours indicating how pests can be blown by the wind across the seas.

TAPPAS visualisation used to determine if an exotic pest found in Kalumburu, Western Australia, could have travelled from Indonesia on the wind.

TAPPAS is being rolled out as a staged release as testing is ongoing.

“We’re looking to expand our multidisciplinary team and are looking for new partnerships to further develop TAPPAS and to identify new application opportunities,” Dr van Klinken said.

If you are interested in working with the CSIRO team to further develop and apply TAPPAS to real world problems, or wish to learn more, please contact Rieks van Klinken, subscribe to the TAPPAS Updates or visit the website.