Biocontrol in Australia: Can a carp herpesvirus (CyHV-3) deliver safe and effective ecological restoration?

Kopf, RKB, M.; Finlayson, C. M.; Hodges, K.; Humphries, P.; King, A.; Kingsford, R. T.; Marshall, J.; McGinness, H. M.; Thresher, R.; Vanderplasschen, A.,  Biological Invasions,  21:1857-1870. 2019.

The Australian Government is considering Cyprinid herpesvirus 3 (CyHV-3) for biocontrol of invasive common carp (Cyprinus carpio L.). We review the evidence-base for its potential ecological risks, benefits and effectiveness. Lower carp abundance may boost native fish biomass and improve water clarity, but there is little evidence available to suggest that the virus, alone or used in combination with other methods, can deliver effective or safe biocontrol. Further, the virus may already be present in Australia. Overseas, the virus has caused sporadic and localized mortalities of carp in lakes and rivers, but has generally had no long-term measurable effect on wild carp or native fish populations. The temperature range of disease (18-28 degrees C), unknown co-factors causing outbreaks, and predictable re-colonization and recruitment boom of immune and virus-resistant carp, following a biocontrol release, remain formidable and unmitigated barriers to success. CyHV-3 infection trials on Australian biota have unexplained high mortality rates of recreationally-important and threatened fishes, and the role of asymptomatic carriers remains uncertain. Finally, Australia has national and international obligations to ensure that there are no perverse outcomes from biocontrol actions. Despite political pressure, there is no environmental justification to rush the release of this virus. To achieve the Government goals of restoring native biodiversity we advocate that key uncertainties, risks and efficacy barriers first need to be addressed. It is only then that viral biocontrol could be considered a viable tool to complement broader ecological restoration strategies for Australia’s waterways.