University of Auckland: Young researchers get funding for work on pests

The projects are part of a nation-wide pest research campaign funded by Predator Free2050 and Jobs for Nature over three years. The campaign crosses diverse research areas such as genetics, biocontrol, audio lures, and social licence.

Dr Florian Pichlmueller’s work will investigate genomic applications for invasive species control with a particular focus on mustelids such as stoats.

He will undertake a discovery virome study to investigate the different types of viruses carried by stoats, weasels and ferrets, and thus allow us to assess their potential risk to native wildlife.

He will also compare the viral sequences with what we know about viruses in other animal species to determine whether it is possible that a virus is only found in specific mustelid species. He will also create a high-quality genome for the invasive least weasel (M. nivalis) in collaboration with the Vertebrate Genomes project.

“This funding is the perfect opportunity to combine my knowledge of population genomics with my growing interest in wildlife diseases and it allows me to determine indirect threats that viruses could pose to our native wildlife,” he says.

Also funded is Dr Ally Palmer who will investigate potential social and ethical challenges to Predator Free 2050 goals which need the active support and involvement of communities all around the country in order to succeed.

New Zealanders hold a wide range of attitudes towards animals and nature, not all of which necessarily align with the PF2050 goal. Social science research helps to understand people’s motivations for supporting or opposing predator control.

Ally’s research aims to better understand social and ethical issues that may arise and to enable productive and proactive discussions on how to resolve them. Achieving this requires understanding not just what values New Zealanders hold in relation to PF2050, but also how they weigh up competing values, why they hold these values, and how any potential conflicts might be resolved.

To answer these questions, the research will use an in-depth, mixed-methods approach, involving interviews, surveys and focus groups.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to further my research into social and ethical issues in conservation, and to turn my attention to questions that are most relevant for NZ,” she says.