Invasive Species

We research invasive species, especially ants. We are studying the process of invasion - how a small number of individuals with low genetic diversity arrive in a new community, grow in abundance and eventually dominate and exclude other species.

Our research focuses on invasive ants. The New Zealand-based programs examine Argentine ants and other invasive species, and in the Pacific, our research is focussed on yellow crazy ants.

Study sites include the Tokelau Atolls in the Pacific, the Northern territories of Australia and Nothofagus (beech) forests of New Zealand’s South Island.

We have shown how genetic variation can influence patterns of aggression and how patterns of community assembly can be modified by invasive species. We have also developed novel statistical models to predict the future distribution of invasive species.

We have a major programme examining invasive social wasps in New Zealand, focusing on interactions between invasive wasps and native ants.

Work is also beginning on a new research project on little fire ants (Wasmannia auropunctata). Other research topics include parasitoid ecology and the biological control of horticultural pests, and outbreaks and control of pest species.

Prospective Students

For prospective students, any funded opportunities I obtain for graduate students will be advertised on  It is possible to obtain a Victoria University PhD scholarship and several of my recent students have this funding. However, VUW PhD scholarships are very competitive: you’ll likely need an “A” grade average. A publication or two from your previous work will also help. Much of what we do is also costly, so positions here also require that we have funding available. Please feel free to contact me for additional information.

My expectation for graduate students is that you work hard and produce publications in top-tier journals. Publications are the currency of science: they will get you a job, a post-doc and a career. To publish in the big journals you’ll need to ask big questions, design robust experiments, statistically analyse the results to a high degree, and have great writing ability. I don’t expect everyone to come into our graduate group with all these skills. But you must be willing and eager to learn. I also want students to enjoy the experience here and their colleagues. We have a great team of very enthusiastic and collegial researchers. It’s important to have fun and enjoy your work.

Please contact Dr Phil Lester below for more information, or if you are interested in graduate work on invasive species, particularly invasive ants.