Phil J. Lester

Phil J. Lester
Victoria University of Wellington · School of Biological Sciences

PhD

About

192
Publications
48,936
Reads
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3,727
Citations
Citations since 2016
61 Research Items
1951 Citations
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Introduction
I work on the population dynamics and ecology of social insects. Invasive ants and social wasps in the Pacific region are a particular focus. We examine the role of pathogens on population dynamics. We use a wide variety of techniques including the statistical modelling of population dynamics, naturally occurring isotopes to examine energy flow, and molecular genetic approaches that include gene silencing and next generation sequencing.
Additional affiliations
January 2001 - present
Victoria University of Wellington
Position
  • Professor
August 1999 - December 2000
Colorado State University
Position
  • PostDoc Position
January 1999 - December 2000
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Position
  • Research Associate
Education
January 1997 - August 1999
Queen's University
Field of study
  • Biology

Publications

Publications (192)
Article
Full-text available
Three species of Vespula have become invasive in Australia, Hawai'i, New Zealand, and North and South America and continue to spread. These social wasp species can achieve high nest densities, and their behavioral plasticity has led to substantial impacts on recipient communities. Ecologically, they affect all trophic levels, restructuring communit...
Article
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Invasive species populations periodically collapse from high to low abundance, sometimes even to extinction. Pathogens and the burden they place on invader immune systems have been hypothesised as a mechanism for these collapses. We examined the association of the bacterial pathogen (Pseudomonas spp.) and the viral community with immune gene expres...
Article
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1. Variation in microbial communities between populations is increasingly hypothesised to affect animal fitness and performance, including for invasive species. Pathogenic species may be lost during the introduction process, enhancing invader fitness and abundance. 2. This study assessed fitness, immune gene expression, and microbial network comple...
Article
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Emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) are a global threat to honeybees, and spillover from managed bees threaten wider insect populations. Deformed wing virus (DWV), a widespread virus that has become emergent in conjunction with the spread of the mite Varroa destructor, is thought to be partly responsible for global colony losses. The arrival of Var...
Article
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A widely held assumption in ecology is that specialists are more efficient than generalists. However, empirical evidence for this fundamental assumption is surprisingly scarce and often contradictory. Theoretically, the evolution of alternative life history strategies is underpinned by a trade-off between activity levels and survival. We investigat...
Article
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It is estimated that more than 500 species of insects have been introduced to the Galápagos Islands via human activities. One of these insect invaders is the yellow paper wasp, Polistes versicolor (Olivier) (Hymenoptera: Vespidae), a social wasp native to continental South America. In Galápagos, these wasps are voracious predators of insect larvae,...
Article
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Two species of entomogenous fungi were discovered infecting the invasive paper wasp Polistes chinensis during an ecological study on Farewell Spit, New Zealand. We sequenced two nuclear ribosomal RDNA genes, the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) and the small ribosomal subunit 18S, and one protein-coding gene, the translation elongation factor 1-al...
Article
Pest control methods that can target pest species with limited environmental impacts are a conservation and economic priority. Species‐specific pest control using RNA interference is a challenging but promising avenue in developing the next generation of pest management. We investigate the feasibility of manipulating a biological invader's immune s...
Article
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Social wasps are invasive in many regions around the world. In their new communities, introduced predators such as these wasps may be beneficial as consumers of exotic pests, but they will also consume native species. Here, we examined the diet of the exotic European paper wasp (Polistes dominula) and the closely related congener, Polistes chinensi...
Article
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The parasitic mite Varroa destructor is a leading cause of mortality for Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies around the globe. We sought to confirm the presence and likely introduction of only one V. destructor haplotype in New Zealand, and describe the viral community within both V. destructor mites and the bees that they parasitise. A 123...
Article
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The gut microbiome is an important component of bee health. Previous research around the globe indicated that bee gut microbiome can be affected by the presence of pathogens. We surveyed for the presence of three specific pathogens in populations of the buff-tailed bumble bee, Bombus terrestris (Linnaeus, 1758), across New Zealand. The pathogen Cri...
Article
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Monarch butterflies can be infected by a parasite called OE. Butterflies with OE may not complete their development or, if they do, the adult butterflies might have deformed wings. We found that the proportion of adult butterflies with wing deformities increased further south in New Zealand, where the weather is colder. In contrast, the number of b...
Article
Risk assessments are fundamental to invasive species management and are underpinned by comprehensive characterization of invasive species impacts. Our understanding of the impacts of invasive species is growing constantly, and several recently developed frameworks offer the opportunity to systematically categorize environmental and socio‐economic i...
Article
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We examined the abundance, nesting ecology, and colony survival of two invasive species of paper wasp, Polistes dominula Christ (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) and Polistes chinensis Pérez (Hymenoptera: Vespidae), within their invaded range in New Zealand. The more recent invader, P. dominula, exhibited a strong habitat preference, reaching the highest abu...
Article
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Wasps of the genus Vespula are social insects that have become major pests and predators in their introduced range. Viruses present in these wasps have been studied in the context of spillover from honey bees, yet we lack an understanding of the endogenous virome of wasps as potential reservoirs of novel emerging infectious diseases. We describe th...
Article
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1. Host–parasite interactions represent complex relationships among species, often with considerable spatial variation. We examined latitudinal variation in the prevalence of monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) infection by the protozoan parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha via a citizen science project in New Zealand. Parasitism by O. elektroscir...
Article
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Grapevine leafroll-associated virus 3 (GLRaV-3) is a worldwide pathogen of Vitis negatively affecting wine production. In red berry cultivars grown in New Zealand, the foliar changes to GLRaV-3-infected vines inform decisions on vine removal (roguing). However, roguing does not always contain GLRaV-3 spread in the presence of an insect vector like...
Article
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• The direct and indirect impacts that invasive predators have on communities within their invaded range are poorly understood, particularly in the early stages of invasion. Through top‐down control of their prey, predators have the capacity to trigger cascading effects on lower trophic levels. • We found the recent arrival of the invasive paper wa...
Article
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Species distribution models (SDMs) are tools used by ecologists to help predict the spread of invasive species. Information provided by these models can help direct conservation and biosecurity efforts by highlighting areas likely to contain species of interest. In this study, two models were created to investigate the potential range expansion of...
Article
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Viruses are ubiquitous within all forms of cellular life, including ants. We documented the currently known viral infections described and their effects on ants. Our literature review found 87 different viruses (including 40 putative viruses and five bacteriophages detected via high-throughput sequencing) across 38 ant species. The majority of thes...
Article
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The yellow paper wasp, Polistes versicolor (Olivier) was first recorded in the Galapagos archipelago in 1988. Its life cycle and ecological impacts were studied on two islands 11 yr after it was first discovered. This invasive wasp adapted quickly and was found in most environments. Colony counts and adult wasp monitoring showed a strong preference...
Article
Full-text available
The yellow paper wasp, Polistes versicolor (Olivier) was first recorded in the Galapagos archipelago in 1988. Its life cycle and ecological impacts were studied on two islands 11 yr after it was first discovered. This invasive wasp adapted quickly and was found in most environments. Colony counts and adult wasp monitoring showed a strong preference...
Article
Full-text available
Permethrin is increasingly used for parasite control in bird nests, including nests of threatened passerines. We present the first formal evaluation of the effects of continued permethrin exposure on the reproductive success and liver function of a passerine, the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), for two generations. We experimentally treated all...
Article
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CRISPR gene drives have potential for widespread and cost-efficient pest control, but are highly controversial. We examined a potential gene drive targeting spermatogenesis to control the invasive common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) in New Zealand. Vespula wasps are haplodiploid. Their life cycle makes gene drive production challenging, as nests are ini...
Article
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Emerging viruses have caused concerns about pollinator population declines, as multi-host RNA viruses may pose a health threat to pollinators and associated arthropods. In order to understand the ecology and impact these viruses have, we studied their host range and determined to what extent host and spatial variation affect strain diversity. First...
Article
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The German wasp (Vespula germanica) is a highly successful invader on a global scale. These wasps were first observed in the Western Cape region in South Africa in 1972, and they have the potential to expand their range and cause significant damage to the native biodiversity. Our study used nuclear (DNA microsatellites) and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA...
Article
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Introduced social wasps (Vespula spp.) are a pest in many parts of the world. Recently, a mite species (Pneumolaelaps niutirani) was described and associated with disease symptoms in wasps. The mite does not appear to directly parasitise the wasps, but has been observed in high abundance, feeding on exudates from the mouths of larvae. We investigat...
Article
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Invasive species cause severe ecological and economic impacts in their introduced ranges. Vespula wasps, native to Eurasia, are a major threat to New Zealand native ecosystems. Understanding factors that influence the success of wasp invasion is pivotal for the development of control strategies. Here, we compare genetic diversity and structure of V...
Article
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Biological invasions can be influenced by trait variation in the invader, such as behavioural traits and ecological factors, such as variation in pathogen pressure. High-throughput nucleotide sequencing has increased our capacity to investigate the genomic basis of the functional changes associated with biological invasions. Here, we used RNA-seque...
Article
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Despite the mitochondrion's long recognised role in energy production, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation commonly found in natural populations was assumed to be effectively neutral. However, variation in mtDNA has now been increasingly linked to phenotypic variation in life-history traits and fitness. We examined whether the relative fitness in n...
Presentation
Philornis downsi is a bird-parasitic fly native to mainland South America that invaded the Galapagos Islands where it is pushing some Darwin’s Finch species over the brink of extinction. Flies lay eggs in bird nests and the larvae feed on nestlings, often killing them. Protecting Galapagos landbirds from this parasite is a conservation priority. A...
Article
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Study sites and wasp foraging grounds. As far as it is known, most Vespula workers forage within 300 m from their nest 1,2. We hence describe the sites surrounding the experimental colonies (see also Table S1) within this spatial range. In 2014, we studied colony A in the outskirts of a town, in the grounds of a. About 25% of the area was covered b...
Article
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Aligned with the New Zealand government’s ‘Predator-Free 2050’ target for Aotearoa New Zealand, National Science Challenge: Our Biological Heritage supports research into five distinct ‘novel biotechnological controls’ of exotic wasps. A framing question within this project is which controls are considered ‘socially acceptable’ and thus suitable fo...
Article
Full-text available
Social wasps are a major pest in many countries around the world. Pathogens may influence wasp populations and could provide an option for population management via biological control. We investigated the pathology of nests of apparently healthy common wasps, Vespula vulgaris, with nests apparently suffering disease. First, next-generation sequenci...
Data
S1_Supporting methods and results. (DOCX)
Article
Full-text available
A successful control or eradication programme using biological control or genetically-mediated methods requires knowledge of the origin and the extent of wasp genetic diversity. Mitochondrial DNA variation in the native and invaded range of the social wasp Vespula germanica was used to examine intra-specific genetic variation and invasive source po...
Article
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1.Once established in new areas, introduced species may exhibit changes in their biology due to phenotypic plasticity, novel selection pressures and genetic drift. Moreover, the introduction process itself has been hypothesised to act as a selective filter for traits that promote invasiveness. 2.We tested the hypothesis that behaviours thought to p...
Article
For conservation ecologists, the justification for restoration that involves the removal of invasive species is often made on the perception of impacts on biodiversity. However, invasive species control decisions can also be driven by the perceived direct impacts on people. Our case study reports on the ecological and human perspectives that drove...
Article
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Grapevine leafroll-associated virus 3 (GLRaV-3) negatively alters grape yield and wine quality but adopting practical control actions could avert an epidemic. In 13 New Zealand commercial vineyards that were planted with one of five red berry cultivars (n = 29,943 vines), we assessed if roguing (removing) GLRaV-3-infected vines could reduce and mai...
Article
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Genetic technologies such as gene editing and gene drive systems have recently emerged as potential tools for pest control. Gene drives, in particular, have been described as potential solutions to the pest problems that beset New Zealand. Here we describe the current state of gene drive technologies and present a series of examples to examine the...
Article
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Anoplolepis gracilipes is one of the six most widespread and pestiferous invasive ant species. Populations of this invader in Arnhem Land, Australia have been observed to decline, but the reasons behind these declines are not known. We investigated if there is evidence of a pathogen that could be responsible for killing ant queens or affecting thei...
Article
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Within any one habitat, the relative fitness of organisms in a population can vary substantially. Social insects like the common wasp are among the most successful invasive animals, but show enormous variation in nest size and other fitness-related traits. Some of this variation may be caused by pathogens such as viruses that can have serious conse...
Article
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Social insects host a diversity of viruses. We examined New Zealand populations of the globally widely distributed invasive Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) for RNA viruses. We used metatranscriptomic analysis, which identified six potential novel viruses in the Dicistroviridae family. Of these, three contigs were confirmed by Sanger sequencing a...
Article
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The honey bee, Apis mellifera, is a globally important species that suffers from a variety of pathogens and parasites. These parasites and pathogens may have sublethal effects on their bee hosts via an array of mechanisms, including through a change in symbiotic bacterial taxa. Our aim was to assess the influence of four globally widespread parasit...
Article
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Biological invasions are a threat to global biodiversity and provide unique opportunities to study ecological processes. Population bottlenecks are a common feature of biological invasions and the severity of these bottlenecks is likely to be compounded as an invasive species spreads from initial invasion sites to additional locations. Despite exte...
Article
Full-text available
Biological invasions are a threat to global biodiversity and provide unique opportunities to study ecological processes. Population bottlenecks are a common feature of biological invasions and the severity of these bottlenecks is likely to be compounded as an invasive species spreads from initial invasion sites to additional locations. Despite exte...
Article
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Summary 1. Populations of introduced species are often thought to perform differently, or experience different population dynamics, in their introduced range compared to their native habitat. Differences between habitats in climate, competition or natural enemies may result in populations with varying density dependence and population dynamics. 2....
Article
Full-text available
Grapevine leafroll-associated virus 3 (GLRaV-3) is the most serious virus in New Zealand and South African vineyards. Its negative influence on berry development is reflected on wine quality, thus making GLRaV-3 control a priority. In red berry cultivars, changes in leaf colour could be useful for the visual identification of GLRaV-3-in-fected vine...
Article
Full-text available
Thriving populations of invasive species often decline, but the mechanisms behind such declines are rarely elucidated. The microbial community living within insects can have significant impacts on host health and population dynamics and may be one such mechanism. Here, we use Illumina RNAseq and 16S amplicon sequencing to compare the bacterial comm...
Article
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The abundance of many invasive species can vary substantially over time, with dramatic population declines and local extinctions frequently observed in a wide range of taxa. We highlight population crashes of invasive ants, which are some of the most widespread and damaging invasive animals. Population collapse or substantial declines have been obs...
Article
Predation by invasive species can reduce the effective population size of native species, which may cause increased levels of genetic drift resulting in a loss of genetic diversity. The magnitude of these effects appears likely to be related to invader abundance. In the Fuscospora beech forests of New Zealand, dispersal of the most abundant ant spe...