Local talent to tackle pesky problems – PF2050 Ltd

Six of Aotearoa’s brightest young minds are set to revolutionize pest management, helping efforts to eradicate New Zealand possums, stoats and rats by 2050.

Supported by Predator Free 2050 Limited (PF2050 Ltd) and $ 2.4 million in funding from Jobs for Nature, postdoctoral and postdoctoral researchers from the universities of Auckland, Canterbury, Lincoln and Otago will study such diverse topics. as genetics, biocontrol, audio decoys. , and social license.

“Our work is ambitious, but it is a crucial step in protecting New Zealand’s biodiversity. Despite decades of valuable and dedicated conservation efforts, significant changes are needed to achieve our goals. And to achieve these changes, New Zealand needs new science talent to conduct the cutting-edge research needed, ”said Dan Tompkins, Scientific Director of PF2050 Ltd.

“The PF2050 program has received good international attention for its feasibility. As New Zealand always has, we support our local ingenuity and talent. We have deliberately sought the diversity of candidates and the range of subjects. “

The recently launched PF2050 Ltd research strategy crystallizes the results where breakthroughs are most needed to achieve the PF2050 goals, while championing the need for more support and investment in the science that will most help us achieve them.

“Building new scientific capacity is essential to achieving all of New Zealand’s environmental goals, not just Predator Free. The investments made here will help establish the careers of these researchers, and their skills and achievements will be of immense value to New Zealand in the future. “

Predator Free 2050 Limited is a state-owned charitable corporation established in 2016. It provides co-funding to enable large-scale predator control and eradication projects, and leads the scientific advances needed to support predator eradication in large scale. It plans to contribute around $ 13 million to the scientific breakthrough in 2020-24, guided by its research strategy.

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Alexandre alexandre is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Otago, who will study which genes are important for opossum reproduction and survival, given the social and cultural implications of genetic-based pest management.

Opossums were introduced to New Zealand from the mainland populations of Australia and Tasmania, which means that today New Zealand opossums are a large genetic “mishmash” of these two source populations. Alana’s research will use this ‘hodgepodge’ to better understand which genes are potentially important for reproduction / survival because they are more limited to the ‘mainland’ or ‘Tasmanian’ genetic background, compared to genes which are more free to spread despite the genetic background because they offer a head start in New Zealand environments.

A potential downstream application of this research could be the use of some of these genes in the control of genetically-mediated pests. For this reason, and because Alana is a Maori scientist (Ngāpuhi: Te Hikutu), she also wants to make sure that the Maori hapori (Maori communities) can access this research and information on pest control at genetic mediation. Along with Alana’s genetic mahi, she will also develop in te reo Māori resources to communicate genetic research on pest species and potential downstream applications.

Ally Palmer is a PostDoc at the University of Auckland who will study potential social and ethical challenges for Predator Free 2050.

PF2050 is a national campaign requiring the active support and participation of communities across the country over a long period of time to be successful.

New Zealanders have a wide range of attitudes towards animals and nature, not all of which necessarily align with the PF2050 goal. Social science research has helped to understand people’s motivations for supporting or opposing predator control.

Ally’s goal is to gain a better understanding of social and ethical issues that may arise, in order to enable productive and proactive discussions on how to resolve them.

Achieving this requires understanding not only what values ​​New Zealanders hold in relation to PF2050, but also how they assess competing values, why they hold those values, and how potential conflicts might be resolved. To answer these questions, this research will take an in-depth and mixed approach, involving interviews, surveys and focus groups.

Florian Pichlmuller is a PostDoc at the University of Auckland, which will study genomic applications for the control of invasive species, with a particular focus on mustelids.

He intends to undertake a discovered virome study to study the different types of viruses carried by stoats, ferrets and weasels. This project will give us an overview of the diversity of viruses found in invasive mustelids and allow us to assess the potential risk to our native taonga fauna.

In addition, by comparing the viral sequences discovered with what we know about viruses found in other animal species, it will be possible to determine whether a virus is only found in a certain species of mustelids.

The creation of a high-quality genome for the invasive weasel (M. nivalis) in collaboration with the Vertebrate Genomes Project will form an important basis for the parasite-free community at large.

Florian will also analyze ermine samples from across Aotearoa to better understand how the population is connected and to study variation in specific genes of interest in pest control efforts.

Anna clark is a doctoral student at the University of Otago who will explore the dynamics of genetic pest control technology in a multispecies model.

His research involves computer experiments to explore the feasibility of coordinating the application of genetic pest control on four invasive mammalian species – brush-tailed possums, stoats, ship rats and house mice. Considering that there are predator-prey and competitive relationships between these species, such a model aims to characterize the evolutionary results of population size fluctuation resulting from interactions between these species. The model will further investigate the optimization of practical application strategies while minimizing negative ecological effects (eg, rapid growth of a prey population after predator removal). The results can also aid in the identification of key genetic design parameters that may facilitate social and cultural accessibility to basic concepts related to technical development and the feasibility of genetic pest control.

Brittany Graham is a doctoral student at Lincoln University. It received funding to study the integration of control tools and attractants to optimize pest control on the ground.

This research would address the question of how to best integrate ground control tools (traps and bait stations) with the best available attractants, in order to optimize the integration and deployment of the latest control and monitoring tools. determine the optimal combination of audio, social and food. based lures. Brittany aims to gain a better understanding of all the traditional and new control tools used in New Zealand, and then to put herself at the forefront of current decoy research.

Ben McEwen is a doctoral student at the University of Canterbury who received funding to study and develop new predator luring technology capable of autonomously identifying invasive predator species and monitoring their populations.

Its goal is to study and develop new predator luring technology and develop a system that uses advanced visual and audio technology to identify predator species in real time, allowing populations to be estimated and automatically selected. audible decoys. , making trapping more efficient. This system has the potential to dramatically improve the interaction rates of predators with traps.

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