Phil Lester on Seven Sharp
Seven Sharp, 11 April 2018
Professor Phil Lester talks to Tim Wilson about the impact of introduced wasps on our native and productive ecosystems and how we can control their numbers.
Currently the impact of wasps on the New Zealand economy is $133 million a year. During the "wasp season" the density of wasps in the New Zealand beach forest can reach 10 000 wasps per hectare, the highest density recorded in the world. Birds and insects don't stand a chance — wasps either out compete them for available food or eat them. Even honey bees are not safe. According to Phil wasps will kill bees by biting off their heads and then dismembering the soft body parts. Without bees we don't have the pollinators we need for our pastoral production.
Wasps also have a painful sting, the venom is made up of a number of chemicals that cause pain, dissolve cells and even mark you as a target so that other wasps know to attack you.
To prevent the damage wasps are having on our biodiversity Phil estimates that wasp numbers need to be reduced by 90% and he thinks that genetic modification technologies have the potential to achieve this.
Phil has written a book, The Vulgar Wasp. The story of a ruthless predator, that outlines the natural history of Vespula vulgaris (common wasp), it's impact on our biodiveristy and control options.