About the project

Join a community tracking barberry bushes to inform conservation and UK wheat food security

Historically, common barberry bushes were eradicated from many countries across Europe and North America due to its role in the cycle of some wheat rusts. Removal of barberry was successful at breaking the disease cycle and helped drive wheat stem rust to near extinction in western Europe.

However, this negatively affected biodiversity of species that rely on barberry. We need to achieve a balance between maintaining habitat for those species dependant on common barberry whilst also preventing it contributing to wheat stem rust re-establishment. Especially as wheat stem rust is on the rise again.

Barberry Carpet Moth graphic

What other species utilise barberry?

Common barberry was introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages due to its nutritious berries. It provides an essential habitat for various wildlife such as the larvae of the Barberry Carpet moth (Pareulype berberata) that rely on the plant as their only known food source. Mass removal of barberry, while vital in the battle against wheat stem rust, impacted biodiversity and drove the carpet moth to near extinction. We need to find how to maintain habitat for the carpet moth whilst safeguarding UK wheat crops from rising in cereal rust diversity.

Which wheat rusts infect barberry?

Wheat stem rust. A threat to wheat production that was largely eradicated from western Europe in the mid-20th century. Increased incidence of wheat stem rust disease since 2013 is worrying as most of our wheat varieties are susceptible.

Wheat yellow rust. Very common in western Europe with frequent epidemics that are managed by chemical control and breeding for resistant crop varieties.

Why do the wheat rusts infect barberry?

Helps stem rust overwinter: At the end of the crop season the wheat rusts can produce hardy overwintering spores called teliospores on rust-infected plant debris. In the spring these teliospores germinate, producing basidiospores that can infect barberry. The barberry acts as a bridge between wheat growing seasons. Aeciospores that are produced on barberry in the spring can infect the new wheat crop.

Generate new diverse strains: The infection of barberry completes the pathogen’s sexual cycle making new rust strains that can be adapted to UK climate. In the UK, currently only stem rust has been shown to go through this sexual cycle.

Join the project

How can you help?

Join our initiative to map the location of barberry bushes across the UK.

Once we find the barberry bushes are we will:

  1. Visit sites and take samples. We will use genetic methods to determine if the type of rust present is a cereal-infecting form. Many different types of rust are capable of infecting barberry so this is very important.
  2. Input location data into mathematical models that assess the proximity of bushes to cereal fields. This helps identify barberry bushes that need to be carefully monitored.

With wheat stem rust outbreaks increasing across western Europe this will provide new knowledge to help protect our cereal crops if the rust re-establishes in the UK.

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iNaturalist

We need your help! Join us via our “BarbRE” project on the the iNaturalist nature app and report the location of common barberry bushes you find across the UK. These can then be checked by our team and contribute to a better understanding of role of barberry in the wheat rust cycle in the UK.  

What is iNaturalist?

A global social network where people can record observations of biodiversity and generate extremely valuable open data used by scientific research projects.

Start recording your barberry observations via our “BarbRE” iNaturalist project the next time you go out walking in the countryside.

Why reporting barberry locations is so important

Our new Barberry Rust Explorer (BarbRE) program establishes the first detailed study of barberry bushes for rust infection in the UK. This will help us understand the current threat barberry could pose as an incubation site for emerging wheat rust strains. But first the location of these bushes needs to be determined to identify those near cereal crops that need careful monitoring.