Royal Society of NZ says pests are costing economy and environment billions

Diseases are costing the country’s economy billions of dollars, both in terms of revenue lost and in control costs, says a report just released by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

There are substantial environmental costs, too, associated with loss of native biodiversity and New Zealand’s clean green reputation.

Titled “Challenges for pest management in New Zealand”, the report was written by a panel led by Royal Society of New Zealand fellows.

It draws on national and international research to explore and discuss the current state of pest management and the unique nature of the New Zealand situation.

The report points to research that weeds are conservatively estimated to cost the economy $1.2 billion a year in lost animal production and control costs and could potentially degrade 7% of the conservation estate within a decade, corresponding to a loss of native biodiversity equivalent to $1.3 billion.

Dr Stephen Goldson is one of the co-authors.

“Mammal pests including rats, possums and feral cats are a serious threat to native flora and fauna, and the cost-effective, humane management of vertebrate pests at very large scales is a pressing issue,” says Dr Goldson.

“Pathogenic micro-organisms, such as didymo and those responsible for the kiwifruit vine disease Psa also present unique challenges for control and management – something exacerbated in marine environments because of the connectivity of waterways.”

The Society is calling for ongoing targeted efforts to enable new approaches and technologies, and greater citizen involvement to protect our native land, aquatic environments and primary production from the increasing threat of pests.

“Our economy and reputation are strongly and uniquely linked to our natural environment and New Zealand needs to maintain its position for high quality, residue-free and ethical primary production on both land and aquatic ecosystems.”

The report identifies the need for improved tools and technologies, such as fertility suppression and biological control, to counter increasing pest resistance and the loss of older, now less acceptable pest management tools. It also emphasises the need for more species-focused biological research, including population processes of individual pest species, so that new approaches can be developed and appropriately targeted.

“Research into monitoring and surveillance technologies is also critical, because early detection of pests is essential to successful eradication, which is by far the best option,” says Dr Goldson.

“There are new technologies that are increasingly being used to help with this effort, including the use of various attractants to uncover the presence and dispersal rates of invaders.

“With this there is also a real opportunity for more citizen involvement. New Zealanders are very motivated when it comes to their natural environment and could probably play a much greater monitoring and surveillance role. Obviously they need to be armed with information, and be involved early on.”

Dr Goldson says that while the report focuses on the challenges New Zealand faces in dealing with pests, its purpose is also to highlight the dynamic nature of effective pest management, including the fact that some current approaches will become obsolete.

“New Zealand has already shown it can provide leadership in environmentally and socially sensitive pest management.”

“Challenges for pest management in New Zealand” and a companion infographic are available to download here.

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