The staff members of the Australian Biological Control Laboratory (ABCL) actively search the natural areas of Australia and Southeast Asia for insects and other organisms that feed on pest insects and plant species that are invasive in the U.S. Based in Brisbane, Queensland, the ABCL is operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and is hosted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). We collaborate closely with stateside scientists, including those at the USDA-ARS Invasive Plant Research Laboratory (IPRL) in Ft. Lauderdale and Gainesville, Florida.
The ABCL originated in January 1985 as a University of Florida laboratory. This facility, then known as the Townsville Biological Control Laboratory, was based at the CSIRO Davies Laboratory in Townsville. In mid-1985, a smaller substation, with one staff member, was established at the CSIRO Long Pocket Laboratories in Brisbane, some 1100 km south of Townsville, in order to extend the geographical range of surveys. In 1987, the Townsville laboratory moved to new facilities at the James Cook University of North Queensland. Our association with the University of Florida ended in 1989, and the laboratory became a USDA-ARS facility, supervised and administered through the USDA Aquatic Weed Laboratory in Fort Lauderdale. In 1991, ABCL became one of the overseas laboratories administered by the USDA's Office of International Research Programs, which has the expertise and infrastructure required to run a federal facility overseas. In 1996, ABCL consolidated into one location in Brisbane where it is currently based. Movement to new facilities is planned for 2011 co-locating with CSIRO and Queensland State environmental departments.
Many invasive weeds in the U.S. such as the broad-leaved paperbark tree, Melaleuca quinquenervia; Old World climbing fern, Lygodium microphyllum; hydrilla, Hydrilla verticillata; and Australian pine, Casuarina spp. are native to this area of Australia. However, the native distribution of many of the weed species in this region continues northward from Australia into tropical and subtropical Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, India, and China, and east to New Caledonia. With excellent collaborators in this region, ABCL has the capability to explore these countries to find the most promising biological control agents for any invasive species with an Australasian origin.
Research conducted at ABCL follows a sequence of events involving: determination of the native distribution of a weedy plant species, exploration for natural enemies, DNA fingerprinting of newly discovered species, ecology of the agents and their weed hosts, field host-range surveys, and ultimately preliminary host-range screening of candidate agents. Our research attempts to determine what regulates the plant in its native environment, which brings to light the full array of potential biological control agents. Organisms with a narrow host range and good regulatory potential are intensively investigated. The data we gather on potential agents is combined with information about the ecology of the weed where it is invasive. Our stateside USDA-ARS collaborators use a science-based process to make the final decision on which organisms are best suited to be biological control agents. This dual-country approach ensures the most successful outcome.
Environmentally adapted flora and fauna coupled with globalization of trade and travel between Australasia and the U.S. is now, and will continue to be, the cause of many serious weed and pest invasions. The ABCL is committed to research and development of biological control solutions for U.S. weeds and insects of Australian and Southeast Asian origin. Our research is critical, not only because biological control offers the safest and most cost-effective approach to long-term management of widespread invasive weeds and pests, but also because in many instances it is the only viable option for control.