Wasp Wipeout, a community-led conservation project that aims to significantly reduce German and common wasp populations in the Nelson-Tasman region this summer.
The German wasp (Vespula germanica) and common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) have been described as New Zealand's most abundant and devastating invertebrate pests. To appreciate their impact on the environment, and our native species, we first have to understand how many wasps there are. Studies have found that, at their peak, there can be up to 40 nests per hectare of beech forest. A nest can produce thousands of queens and thousands of workers, and there are about a million hectares of beech forest in the South Island. Based on these figures, there could be up to 40,000,000,000 (40 billion) wasp queens in the beech forest at the height of summer, and many more workers.
New Zealand now has the highest densities of these wasps in the world. And the Nelson-Tasman region has been declared the "wasp capital" of New Zealand.
Wasps affect native foodwebs (the predation rate of wasps on some native invertebrates is so high that the probability of their populations surviving through the wasp season is virtually nil) and negatively affect the behaviour of native birds.
They also spoil our enjoyment of the outdoors in summer. Beyond the direct effects on people's health and wellbeing, wasps are also a drain on the economy, impacting on forestry, farming, bee-keeping, tourism, vineyards and more. A Department of Conservation study, published last year, estimated that wasps cost New Zealand about $130 million a year.
This is why the Nelson Mail and Stuff are partnering with the Department of Conservation and local conservation groups on Wasp Wipeout — a community-led project aimed at significantly reducing German and common wasp populations in the Nelson-Tasman region this summer.
Wasp Wipeout is supporting existing wasp control operations through crowdfunding to enable them to continue this summer and, in some cases, expand.
People can also register their interest in the project, or take the DIY approach by doing their own wasp control operation in their community, street, or backyard.
Leader: Professor Phil Lester, Victoria University of Wellington
New tools for wasp control are one of the top ten research priority areas for regional government agencies, along with community and industry groups. This project aims to deliver a step-change in the management of wasps, shifting from the current “small site control” towards “landscape-scale eradication”. The project will develop four state-of-the-art technologies to combat wasps. Technology development will be complemented by two cross-cutting research strands: (1) development of an eradication strategy for wasps, utilising statistical methods to evaluate current and emerging control tools with a view to achieving eradication; and (2) an assessment of public perceptions and perspectives on the use of novel pest control strategies, in order to account for any strongly held concerns that might prevent adoption of new pest control tools. The views of Māori will be given particular consideration, given their status as tangata whenua with a long and intimate association with indigenous flora and fauna.