Vehicle driving through mesquite infestation in central Queensland.

Mesquite has the capacity to rapidly transform open rangelands into impenetrable thorn forests.

Controlling mesquite in northern Australia

Current mesquite research is investigating the integration of traditional management practices with fire, grazing management and biological control.

  • 20 May 2010 | Updated 14 October 2011

Researching mesquite in Australia

Page 1 of 11

Prosopis species are woody, leguminous shrubs or trees. They were introduced into Australia in the late 1800s and early 1900s for their beneficial properties including:

  • shade
  • fodder (pods are highly palatable and nutritious to livestock)
  • ornamental plants.

Since then at least four species and several hybrids, together referred to as 'mesquite' have become widely established in semi-arid and arid parts of Australia where they have formed vast, dense infestations. Their capacity to rapidly transform open rangelands into impenetrable thorn forests is of great economic and conservation concern.

As a result mesquite is recognised as one of the 20 weeds of national significance (WONS) in Australia. Mesquite has also been introduced throughout most tropical regions of the world because of its beneficial properties.

However, in many of these places its detrimental properties are fast outweighing the benefits.

Current research is aimed at providing a basis for better long-term management strategies for mesquite, both in Australia and elsewhere. Research projects include:

  • ecological research
  • biological control
  • fire research and integrated management
  • landscape ecology.

CSIRO Entomology has been researching mesquite since 1994 when it initiated research into several potential new biological control agents. This culminated in the rejection of two insects and the Australia-wide release of two new insects from 1998 to 2000.

From 2000 research efforts were broadened and intensified in the Pilbara region of Western Australia (WA). The main infestation in the Pilbara (ca 150 000 ha, of which ca 30 000 ha is dense) is the largest in Australia, and is particularly intractable because it is a relatively fire-resistant hybrid.

This research program was possible through the initiation of the Pilbara Mesquite Management Committee (PMMC) and National Heritage Trust (NHT) funding which ran through to mid 2007. Research in the Pilbara is conducted largely by a full-time project officer based in Karratha, and also involves collaborations with:

  • Curtin University, Western Australia
  • University of Western Australia
  • Department of Agriculture, Western Australia (DAWA)
  • Department of Conservation and Land Management, Government of Western Australia (CALM).

In 2004 comparative studies were also initiated across Australia with the intention of providing a basis for better long-term management strategies, both in Australia and elsewhere.

References

  • Cordo HA, DeLoach CJ. 1987. Insects that attack mesquite (Prosopis spp.) in Argentina and Paraguay: their possible use for biological control in the United States. United State Department of Agriculture, ARS-62. South American Biological Control Laboratory, Hurlingham, Buenos Aires. Argentina.
  • De Loach CJ. 1985. Conflicts of interest over beneficial and undesirable aspects of mesquite (Prosopis spp.) in the United States as related to biological control. In: Delfosse ES. (Ed.). Proceedings of VI International Symposium on the Biological Control of Weeds 1984. Minister of Supply and Services. Vancouver, Canada. Pp. 301-40.
  • Impson FAC, Moran VC, Hoffmann JH. 1999. A review of the effectiveness of seed-feeding bruchid beetles in the biological control of mesquite, Prosopis species (Fabaceae), in South Africa. African Entomology Memoir. 1:81-88.
  • Paulsen HA, Ares FN. 1961. Trends and carrying capacity and vegetation on an arid southwestern range. Journal of Range Management. 14: 78-83.
  • Ward CR, O'Brien CW, O'Brien LB, Foster DE, Huddlestone EW. 1977. Annotated checklist of New World insects associated with Prosopis (mesquite). United States Department of Agriculture, Research Services Bulletin. 1557.