Rally call against ambrosia

University of Fribourg - 19 July 2012

United we stand: that is the current strategy that is required against ambrosia – one of the most notorious invasive plants. Under the direction of Professor Heinz Müller-Schärer, a biologist at the University of Fribourg, a coordinated action using new weapons will be implemented in order to fight this weed. The European research organisation COST has given the green light to a large project aimed at controlling this invasive plant, which will be carried out in collaboration with CABI Delémont and with the support of the National Centre of Competence in Research NCCR Plant Survival situated at the University of Neuchâtel.
Ambrosia is a pest that extends across borders: even though Switzerland has achieved a very good success rate over the last years, mainly due to increased control measures, certain regions are still strongly affected by problems caused by this weed. Each summer, in Geneva, an enormous amount of people suffer from ambrosia’s highly allergic pollen that arrives airborne from neighbouring France (Vallée du Rhône). Furthermore, ambrosia seeds imported in contaminated bird food or in sunflower seeds are difficult to control on a European scale; hence, successful control strategies by each country are quite limited. The time has come to put an end to this problem using new control methods within the framework of a large scale project of the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST). This project will be supervised by Professor Heinz Müller-Schärer, a biologist and long time invasive plant specialist at the University of Fribourg, in collaboration with Dr. Urs Schaffner at the Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International (CABI) in Delémont and with the NCCR Plant Survival
One project – four objectives
Entitled SMARTER (Sustainable management of Ambrosia artemisiifolia in Europe), this COST action against ambrosia emphasises the use of new control strategies, such as biological pest control and promoting strongly competitive plants, that will be integrated into the existing mechanical and chemical measures. Biological control - or in other words regulating invasive plants using natural enemies that come from their place of origin (North America and Mexico) - has already produced positive results in China and Australia. In Europe, biological control of invasive plants has not yet been used extensively. “This is due to the mosaic of national states that each have (or don’t have) their own strategy to deal with exotic, invasive organisms, as well as to the absence of legislation concerning the implementation of biological control measures”, explains Heinz Müller-Schärer. Another aspect of the COST project involves developing mechanisms and surveillance methods on the efficiency of biological control and its economic, ecologic and social implications. Developing a dynamic network of researchers and of all parties concerned is fundamental to such a large-scale project, which also has the goal of creating synergies. “There exists convincing examples, such as in intensive cropping systems, where homeopathic doses of herbicides can be combined to biological control methods creating synergistic effects.” According to Professor Müller-Schärer, ambrosia, apart from its status of allergenic plant, is among one of the most dangerous weeds in intensive cropping systems (sunflower, maize, sugar beets, etc.) in several Eastern European countries. The fourth objective of the COST action consists of training, across Europe, the new generation of researchers in the areas of ecology and control of invasive plants in order to address the increasing need for experts.
Ambrosia’s precursory role
The SMARTER project focuses on the control of ambrosia, but also pursues the larger goal of developing a mode of action for the eradication of other invasive plants and to propose the transnational and interdisciplinary basis necessary for future control actions against harmful, invasive organisms. The SMARTER project is expected to last 4 years; it consists of several working groups from the different countries involved. In short, the COST action will propose a guide for the control of ambrosia specifically adapted to the habitat and to the region.  

More info

For more information on COST

Links to the project SMARTER