Novel pest control technologies

  • Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) queen

    Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) queen.

  • Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) face

    Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) face

  • Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) sting

    Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) sting

Project 2.2

Leader: Professor Phil Lester, Victoria University of Wellington

Mission Statement

By providing end-users with the tools (and deployment strategies) to control current insect pest issues, and to combat new incursions of unwanted insects, this project will help reverse the decline of native biodiversity through a national partnership that moves beyond the current status quo to involve the best researchers and end-users for the task across the country.


Wasps stand out as one of the worst intractable pest problems in New Zealand, with massive impacts on iconic fauna and parts of the productive sector such as grape and citrus production. They are also a public health and nuisance issue. 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.

Co-develop four new technologies for insect control (with appropriate tactical, strategic, and end-user considerations), using the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) as a test species and assess the economic feasibility, social acceptability and practicality of each technology for large-scale deployment.

  1. Can we develop novel genetic technologies (RNAi and mtDNA) to regulate wasp populations?
  2. Can we use ‘Trojan mites’ to deliver pathogens into wasp nests?
  3. Can we use smart dispensers to deliver pheromones or insecticides to wasps?
  4. Can we develop wasp eradication strategies?

Dobelmann, J., Loope, K. J., Wilson-Rankin, E., Quinn, O., Baty, J. W., Gruber, M. A. M. and Lester, P. J. 2017. Fitness in invasive social wasps: the role of variation in viral load, immune response and paternity in predicting nest size and reproductive output. – Oikos doi: 10.1111/oik.04117

Duncan EJ, Hyink O, Dearden PK, 2016. Notch signalling mediates reproductive constraint in the adult worker honeybee. Nature Communications 7. doi: 10.1038/ncomms12427

Lester, Haywood, Archer & Shortall (2017) The long-term population dynamics of common wasps in their native and invaded range. Journal of Animal Ecology 85: In Press. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12622

Mercier OR, 2017. Bringing the ‘Trickster’ wasp into the Discourse on Biotechnologial Controls of ‘Pest’ Wasps, MAI Journal: A New Zealand Journal of Indigenous Scholarship 6:74-81. 10.20507/MAIJournal.2017.6.1.6

Wolff, Gemmell, Tompkins, Dowling 2017 Introduction of a male-harming mitochondrial haplotype via 'Trojan Females' achieves population suppression in fruit flies. eLife 6: e23551. DOI:  10.7554/eLife.23551

Wolff, Tompkins, Gemmell & Dowling. 2016. Mitonuclear interactions, mtDNA- mediated thermal plasticity, and implications for the Trojan Female Technique for pest control. Scientific Reports 6: 30016

What's new

Wasp workshop.
Wasp research creating a buzz

5 July 2018 - Whats new

The use of pheromones, gene silencing, population modelling and gene drives are all showing promise when it comes…

Invasive Vespula wasp on an apple.
Wasp genomes revealed

21 June 2018 - Whats new

We’re exploring solutions to Aotearoa’s wasp problem through a research programme led by Professor Phil Lester that focuses…

Professor Phil Lester
Phil Lester on Seven Sharp

13 April 2018 - Whats new

Professor Phil Lester talks to Tim Wilson about the impact of introduced wasps on our native and productive…

The Vulgar Wasp: The Story of a Ruthless Invader and Ingenious Predator
The Vulgar Wasp: The Story of a Ruthless Invader and Ingenious Predator

5 April 2018 - Whats new

In this book, entomologist Phil Lester describes the many fascinating and lesser-known sides of the common wasp. He…

Wasp. Image - NZ Herald
Can NZ ever be free of the 'vulgar' wasp?

5 April 2018 - Whats new

Science reporter Jamie Morton spoke to Victoria University's Professor Phil Lester, who has just published his book The…

Vespula germanica collected on Great Mercury Island, New Zealand. Image - Julia Schmack
Explaining wasp population structure in the Hauraki Gulf

7 December 2017 - Whats new

The development of novel wasp suppression and eradication tools requires an understanding of what factors limit or regulate…

Reducing the Pain of Pest Wasps powerpoint
Reducing the Pain of Pest Wasps

28 September 2017 - Whats new

We need better, effective methods to manage pests. Using wasps as a model system to develop socially acceptable,…

Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) face
Wasp Wings: Wasp Tactical Group Update 2

18 April 2017 - Whats new

The Wasp Tactical Group aims to facilitate science direction for improved management of pest wasps, by operating a…

Wasp side view. Image - Victoria Universities
Wasps in the media

7 November 2016 - Whats new

Dr. Phil Lester, an eminent biologist at Victoria University, spoke to the Nelson Science Society about the research…

Wasp face.
War on wasps

26 July 2016 - Whats new

They don't just spoil our picnics, they kill native chicks. The warm weather is not helping to control…