Dr. Melanie Weckert (formerly Whitelaw) completed her doctorate in 1999, on the topic: "Studies on plant growth promotion and phosphate solubilisation by Penicillium radicum". Whilst undertaking her PhD studies she was employed as a Teaching Fellow in Wine Science. In 1999 she accepted the position as lecturer in Viticulture/Plant Pathology at Charles Sturt University and in 2002 moved on to the position of research scientist (plant pathology/soil microbiology) with NSW Department of Primary Industries at the NWGIC, investigating the effect of composts and permanent swards on vineyard soil microbial activity and vine roots.
From 2008-2011 Melanie worked as a team leader in Vine Health with the GWRDC funded 'Wine Growing Futures project'. At this time she discovered that the major cause of young grapevine decline in the Riverina was sequential infection by two types of pathogenic fungi (Botryosphaeriaceae from rootstock cuttings and Ilyonectria (formerly Cylindrocarpon) spp. from nursery soil). At the same time she investigated the effect of organic soil amendments, including biochar, on vineyard soil microbial activity.
Specialisation: Soil Microbiology, Vine Health and Disease.
Focus area: Grapevine roots (rhizosphere) and vineyard soil microbiology.
Conventional vineyard floor management systems in Australia maintain bare weed-free soil under the vine and, in some districts, between the vine rows. However, as organic matter from crop residues is minimal in viticulture, bare soil becomes depleted of organic matter. Plant cover from permanent swards or brassica crops can be an important source of soil organic matter. Similarly, organic soil amendments including mulches, composts and biochars provide organic carbon and other nutrients important for maintenance of soil microbial populations. Our field and pot investigations at NWGIC over the past 10 years have shown that low soil carbon levels lead to decreased abundance and diversity of soil bacteria, fungi and beneficial nematodes; decreased grapevine root growth; high soil bulk density and low water retention. Planting of permanent swards and brassicas, or application of soil organic amendments, increased soil organic carbon and thus increased the vineyard soil and rhizosphere microbial biodiversity important for optimal nutrient cycling and grapevine health.
Whitelaw-Weckert, M.A., Whitelaw, E.S., Rogiers, S.Y., Quirk, L., Clark, A.C., Huang, C.X. (2011). Bacterial inflorescence rot of grapevine caused by Pseudomonas syringae pv. syringae. Plant Pathology 60, 325-357.
Whitelaw-Weckert, M.A., Rahman, L., Appleby, L.M., Hall, A., Clark, A.C., Hardie, W.J., Waite, H.L., 2013. Co-infection by Botryosphaeriaceae and Ilyonectria spp. fungi during propagation causes decline of young grafted grapevines. Plant Pathology 62, 1226-1237.
Rahman, L., Orchard, B., Whitelaw-Weckert, M.A., 2011. Consecutive applications of brassica green manures and seed meal enhances suppression of Meloidogyne javanica and increases yield of Vitis vinifera cv Semillon. Applied Soil Ecology 47, 195-203.
Waite, H., Whitelaw-Weckert, M.A., Torley, P., 2015. Grapevine Propagation: Principles and Approaches for the Production of High Quality Grapevine Planting Material. New Zealand Journal of Crop and Horticultural Science 43, (1) 1-18
Rahman. L., Whitelaw-Weckert, M.A., Orchard, B., 2014. Impact of organic soil amendments, including poultry litter biochar, on nematodes in a Riverina, New South Wales, vineyard. Soil Research 52, (6) 604-619.