Phil Lester

Prof Phil Lester profile picture

Insect Ecology School of Biological Sciences


Teaching in 2019

Personal Bio

PhD Queen's University | MSc University of Otago


I currently sit on the editorial boards of the journals Biological Invasions, Myrmecological News and Integrative Zoology. I have been previously awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholar Fellowship, and a RSNZ James Cook Fellowship. Funding for our group comes from a variety of sources including the RSNZ Marsden Fund. I currently am the President of the Royal Society of NZ (Wellington Branch), I have been a previous Head of School for the School of Biological Sciences, and a prior President of the Entomological Society of New Zealand.

Research Interests

I work on the population dynamics and ecology of social insects. Invasive ants and social wasps in the Pacific region are a particular focus. I am interested in the boom-and-bust dynamics of invasive species and the potential role of pathogens and the insect immune system in these population collapses. Can we encourage other invasive populations to collapse? We are also examining interactions between bacteria and viruses in honey bees as a method of mitigating the effects of parasitic Varroa mites.

Our work spans the full spectrum from very applied entomology (e.g. invasive ant or wasp control) to much more theoretical or conceptual work (e.g. wasp learning and foraging behaviour). Other work examining ecological or evolutionary theory include projects examining how humans have inadvertently driven positive selection for invasive genotypes of Argentine ants. At the 'front end' of our applied work is Pacific Biosecurity led by Dr Monica Gruber. We started Pacific Biosecurity as a not-for-profit organisation with the goal of building resilience to the threat of invasive insects throughout the Pacific region. I also am a project leader in New Zealand’s National Science Challenge, examining Novel Pest Control Technologies using invasive social wasps as a model system.

View the Invasive Species research group


Lester PJ, Sébastien A, Suarez AV, Barbieri RF & Gruber MAM. 2017. Symbiotic bacterial communities in ants are modified by invasion pathway bottlenecks and alter host behaviour. Ecology 98: 861–874.

Lester PJ, Haywood J, Archer ME & Shortall CR. 2017. The long-term population dynamics of common wasps in their native and invaded range. Journal of Animal Ecology 86: 337-347.

Lester PJ & MAM Gruber. 2016. Booms, busts and population collapses in invasive ants. Biological Invasions 18: 3091-3101.

Brenton-Rule EC, Barbieri RF & Lester PJ. 2016. Corruption, development and governance indicators predict invasive species risk from trade. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 283: 20160901.

Lester PJ, Bosch PJ, Gruber MAM, et al. 2015. No evidence of enemy release in pathogen and microbial communities of common wasps (Vespula vulgaris) in their native and introduced range. PLoS One 10: e0121358.

View more publications at ResearchGate


Teaching in 2019