Celebrate fruit fly detections in New Zealand

Posted by Prof Jacqueline Beggs @JacquelineBeggs

About to bite into that luscious, juicy taste of summer, a tree-ripened nectarine? Be thankful you do not live anywhere with fruit fly.  This group of insects are infamous for the damage they do to a wide range of fruit and vegetables.

Apricot (left) and pear (right) are two of the many fruits affected by fruit fly. Images used by permission Plant Health Australia

As well as summerfruit, they attack citrus, apples, pears, berries, grapes, olives, persimmons, tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, and avocado. We are not talking a bit of cosmetic damage to the skin – fruit can end up as a soft, mushy, inedible mess. Fruit fly females lay eggs into fruit and the developing maggots munch away, causing the fruit to rot and drop to the ground.

The extent of damage can be devastating. The island of Nauru ended up home to four species of pest fruit fly.  By 1998, about 95% of mango were infested and island-grown fresh fruit and vegetables were so scarce locals had to rely on more expensive imported produce. Fortunately, an intensive lure and poison programme eradicated three of the four species and mango and breadfruit were back on the menu.

Australia is not so lucky. They have two highly damaging fruit fly species, the Queensland fruit fly and Mediterranean fruit fly. Commercial growers spend hundreds of millions of dollars on various control measures and quarantine measures are in place to try to stop the spread into uninfested areas. With varying degrees of success.

A single Queensland fruit fly (Bactrocera tryoni) was recently detected in Devonport, New Zealand. A full scale response has been triggered as it is regarded as a serious pest [Image: James Niland, Wikimedia commons ].

It is no surprise then that detection of two different species of fruit fly in New Zealand in a week makes headline news and our dollar falls. Finding a second Queensland fruit fly near to the first is concerning. We certainly do not want them to establish. However, I think we should also celebrate. The detections are really New Zealand’s biosecurity system operating at its best. We have in place a world class fruit fly detection system; a nationwide surveillance network of 7737 traps baited with fruit fly specific lures that are checked seasonally.

Including the three latest finds, this network has detected 13 incursions of economically important fruit flies since 1989.  More importantly, early detection and effective control means fruit flies have not established in New Zealand. With such high stakes, it is critical that we keep going with research to improve surveillance, eradication and control tools. Recent PhD work at University of Auckland by Dr Lloyd Stringer is a good example; he developed a population model that helps to identify the most successful management and eradication options for Queensland fruit fly.

We cannot afford to take our foot off the pedal. Fruit fly will keep pushing at our border since there are around 80 pest species found in many countries we trade with and travel to. Furthermore, some regions have given up trying to achieve area wide fruit fly control, leading to higher density of these pests. That makes it easier for an individual fly to slip past all the measures we have in place to keep them out. So hats off to all the folk involved in keeping fruit fly at bay. That includes you – letting biosecurity officers onto your property to check for infestation, making sure you do not move fruit or veges from “controlled areas”, and encouraging everyone to never bring undeclared produce into New Zealand.

Prof Jacqueline Beggs is Director of the Centre for Biodiversity and Biosecurity, a member of the Biosecurity Ministerial Advisory Committee and co-supervised Dr Lloyd Stringer for his PhD research. And nectarines are probably her favourite fruit!

Hello darkness, my old friend

Posted by Ellery McNaughton @EJ_McNaughton

Who’s afraid of the dark? Society in general it would seem. Some people have good reason to be, living in places where humans are not top of the food chain, and darkness provides cover for those that are. Yet even in places where predation is not a risk to contend with, darkness gets a bad rap. The Dark Side, the Dark Lord with his Dark Mark, dark magic, somehow we have conflated darkness with evil. Perhaps this is because in the dichotomy of light and dark, light outshines darkness in the PR department. Light is the stuff angels wear to look suitably holy. Light signifies safe places for lion kings to rule their lion kingdoms. Light is the symbol of enlightenment and civilisation, an indicator of human innovation, technology and progress. And in the immutable logic of opposing pairs, if light = good, then darkness must therefore = bad. It’s algebra, or something.

Light side dark side

Choose light or choose dark. Choose the hero or the villain. Somehow they’re always the same choice

However, darkness really is our friend, preserving our sleep patterns and physiological processes, keeping our biological clock running in an orderly manner. It’s an unappreciated and often abusive friendship on our part. Natural darkness is being eroded away as we increasingly choose to hang out with the cool new kid, light. Natural limiters of daily activity are for lesser species, and if we want to work late into the night, nothing can stop us (even if the numerous health problems should). Some people love light so much that when their streetlights are changed to have less light spill, they buy outdoor lights to make up for the lack of illumination. That’s not just enabling a later bedtime; it is actively avoiding the presence of darkness. Why are we afraid of the dark?


Dumbledore promoting light pollution

While urban dwellers generally don’t have to deal with predation, in the dark we often feel at risk from other humans. Walking home at night becomes an exercise of fearful imagination, where every shadowy bush, alley or doorway becomes a hiding place for others up to no good. Light banishes the shadows and leaves no place for imagination to run riot; security lights are so named for a reason – they make us feel secure. This is in spite of the fact that light doesn’t appear to reliably banish the presence of the criminal element. Of course, even if light doesn’t actually make us safe, it is important for people to feel safe in their cities. And until we as a society stop viewing darkness as a villain to be conquered, light is a necessary evil.


Ellery McNaughton is a PhD student in the Centre of Biodiversity and Biosecurity, School of

Ellery (2)


Biological Sciences, University of Auckland. Her project investigates the effects of a city-wide changeover in streetlight technology on urban bird behaviour and ecosystem function. She is supervised by Margaret StanleyJacqueline BeggsKevin Gaston (University of Exeter, UK) and Darryl Jones (Griffith University, Australia).

Missed opportunities in the SPCA controversy

Posted by: Jessica Devitt @Colette_Keeha

Last month I was closely following the news and debates that were sparked by the RSCPA of New Zealand’s (herein SPCA) official stance on the use of 1080 in pest control.

Figure 1. Ban 1080 protesters speak to Newshub (Newshub, 2018).

The SPCA wants the toxin 1080 (aka sodium monofluoroacetate) banned because it considers the toxin an inhumane way of reducing pest animal populations.  The SPCA further notes that it does not regard one type of animal as more deserving of life than another, arguing there is no justification to control pest animals in the first place, and that ways to allow conflicting species to ‘co-exist’ should be encouraged.

I am pro the use of 1080 based on the positive outcomes it has for native species. I am in agreement with the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that 1080 is the most effective invasive species management tool that we have at this point in time.


Figure 2. A large male L. barbicornis guards a female drilling an egg-laying hole (Painting, 2013).

I was a financial supporter of the SPCA for several years with monthly, albeit small, contributions. I decided to withdraw my support for them post their 1080 statement, and instead I promptly spent my money on joining Forest and Bird, whom I had never financially supported but always wanted to.

I did actually think quite a bit about this before doing it – I am not a big fan of ‘cancel culture’, so I did not want to boycott the SPCA over one disagreement, and part of me felt like I was doing that. However, realistically I had to look at the bigger picture and I realised that their statement and some of the attitudes expressed within it do not align with me.


In fact, the ongoing debate made me realise that although the thought of native species loss filled me with genuine sadness, it did not always spark the same kind of outrage that I got from seeing domestic animals harmed or neglected by humans. I never really looked at the loss of native species as an animal welfare issue, when actually it is. I academically understood the issue of native species loss, but it is not something that I am reminded about regularly with visually disturbing pictures; like what is often seen with domestic animal abuse.


Figure 3. Possum and rat both preying on a thrush nest (Nga Manu Images, n.d.)

My issue with the SPCA’s statement, was in retrospect, more to do with how they went about stating their position rather than me expecting them to be pro 1080 or agree with its use.  Their statement was very one-sided, completely failing to grasp the complexities of the situation. It briefly notes reproductive control of pest species as an alternative option. However, this is not a straight forward fix. Reproductive control is not an option for most of New Zealand’s mammalian pests as there is no way currently this can be applied at a scale that would lead to significant reduction in pest numbers. Furthermore, applying reproductive control has its own set of problems – adding reproductive hormones to the environment has many downstream impacts on non-target wildlife, and surgically sterilising then releasing animals still leaves them hunting and killing native wildlife for the rest of their lifetime.


Figure 4. Gene editing (Luecke & Steadman, n.d.).

The SPCA firmly stands on the side of ‘ban 1080’ by supplying links to ways in which you can support a ban, but fails to give other options, such as supporting your local environmental group or donating funds to Predator Free NZ or Forest and Bird for their continued research on predator control. Both of these organisations are interested in finding alternatives to 1080.


Figure 5. Predator Free NZ logo (Hill, 2018).

The press release reads more as an individual’s viewpoint and something that would have been more fitting in a blog (such as this) than a press statement by a large well-established organisation.  The release appears out-of-place in comparison to the other press releases on the website. Looking over the past year of press releases I could not see any big statements taking a side on other topical animal welfare issues such as the horrors of the dairy industry, horse racing, rodeo, releasing pets into the wild, trapping, and other poisons besides 1080.

I am not surprised that the SPCA does not endorse the use of toxins for pest control; I think this would be expected from any animal welfare group. I also think it’s pretty clear from the subsequent debate that everybody would like a more humane method of pest control. I think that the SPCA really missed an opportunity here to offer up other ways in which people can support pest free New Zealand without necessarily jumping straight to ‘ban 1080’.


Figure 6. Community conservation groups. (Department of Conservation, n.d.)


Addendum: Forest and Bird met with the SPCA on January 22nd to discuss their position on 1080. The SPCA clarified that their position is to encourage more research and development into alternative non-toxic pest control methods.  Forest and Bird also stated that the SPCA will amend it’s statement to reflect this (@Forest_and_Bird, 23rd January 2019, https://twitter.com/Forest_and_Bird/status/1088258572612333568).

Here is a list of some of the organisations that are currently working to find alternative means of pest control:

Biological Heritage National Science Challenge

Predator Free New Zealand

Genomics Aotearoa

Forest and Bird

The Royal Society of New Zealand

Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research

Department of Conservation

Here is are a couple of links that connect people to local conservation efforts:

Department of Conservation

Conservation Volunteers New Zealand



Jessica Devitt is a PhD student at the Centre for Biodiversity & Biosecurity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland and Plant and Food Research. She is researching the respiratory responses of the golden-haired bark beetle to advance fumigation techniques. She is supervised by Jacqueline Beggs from the University of Auckland, Adriana Najar-Rodriguez and Matthew Hall from Plant and Food Research.



Department of Conservation. (n.d.). Community conservation groups. Retrieved https://www.doc.govt.nz/get-involved/volunteer/groups/

Hill, C. (2018). Predator Free NZ logo. Retrieved from https://predatorfreenz.org/about-us/pfnz-logo-332-by-222/

Luecke, J. & Steadman. (n.d.). Gene editing. University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved from https://www.labroots.com/trending/genetics-and-genomics/8655/crispr-edit-genes-outside-cell

Newshub. (2018) Ban 1080 protesters speak to Newshub.  Retrieved from https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2018/09/ban-1080-protesters-descend-upon-parliament.html

Nga Manu Images. (n.d.) Possum and rat both preying on a thrush nest. Retrieved from http://www.ngamanuimages.org.nz/image.php?image_id=459

Painting, C.J. (2013). A large male L. barbicornis guards a female drilling an egg-laying hole, demonstrating the extreme sexual dimorphism in this species. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_giraffe_weevil#/media/File:Lasiorhynchus_barbicornis_male_and_female.png

Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. (2007). Rat attacking bird’s nest. Retrieved from https://teara.govt.nz/en/introduced-animal-pests