Ecological impact and spread of an invasive paper wasp in New Zealand (Hymenoptera: Vespidae)
Social wasps are considered among the most successful and impactful invasive species in the world. One species, Polistes dominula has spread from its native Mediterranean range to every continent except Antarctica. This wasp reached New Zealand in the last decade where it has established in the north of the South Island, however, reports of its presence are increasing throughout the country. Due to its recent arrival in New Zealand, little is known about where this species is likely to establish or what impacts it may have on local insect communities. In this thesis, I conducted two studies to investigate these questions, providing valuable information that may inform future management of this invasive species.
In chapter 2, I used two bioclimatic modelling methods to predict areas of suitable habitat across four regions in the southern hemisphere. These models were informed by global temperature and precipitation data as well as global distribution occurrence data of P. dominula. These data were used to estimate conditions most highly correlated with the presence of this wasp. The models identified large areas across the target regions that were climatically suitable for the establishment of P. dominula. Many of these areas are not known to currently contain populations of this species, representing habitat potentially vulnerable to further invasion by P. dominula. Areas across South America, South Africa and Australia were predicted to be climatically suitable. In New Zealand, much of the North Island and eastern parts of the South Island were predicted to be suitable habitat for this wasp. These results suggest that P. dominula could potentially establish across more of the country and expand its invaded range. Information provided by these models may guide conservation and biosecurity management by highlighting key areas where prevention and mitigation should be prioritized.
In chapter 3, I used molecular diet analysis to investigate the range of prey being utilised by P. dominula in New Zealand. Using DNA barcoding, larval gut contents of P. dominula and another closely related species, Polistes chinensis, were analysed to identify what species were present in the diet of both wasps. Butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) were found to be the most highly represented order in both species’ diets. True bugs (Hemiptera) and flies (Diptera) were also abundant. Both wasps were shown to consume a range of native and introduced species including a number of agricultural pests. P. dominula was found to utilise a wider range of prey than P. chinensis. This more diverse prey range, combined with known differences in nesting behaviour, suggest that P. dominula may represent a more significant threat to invertebrate diversity than the already well-established P. chinensis. These results may inform conservation and biosecurity managers on which species are most at risk where this new invasive wasp becomes established.
This thesis provides insights into the potential impacts of a new invasive species to New Zealand. Both chapters represent the first time that these methods have been used to study P. dominula. This work highlights the need for continued monitoring of wasp populations throughout New Zealand, especially in regions highlighted as vulnerable to P. dominula establishment. We also suggest the need to prioritise the conservation of ‘at-risk’ species in coastal and human-altered habitats. Increased public engagement through the citizen-science initiatives should be encouraged while more research into management and control methods is recommended.