Phil Lester

Prof Phil Lester profile picture

Insect Ecology School of Biological Sciences


Teaching in 2020

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


Dobelmann J, Alexander A, Baty JW, Gemmell NJ, Gruber MAM, Quinn O, Wenseleers T, Lester PJ. 2019. The association between mitochondrial genetic variation and reduced colony fitness in an invasive wasp. Molecular Ecology 28: 3324-3338.

Lester PJ & Beggs JR. 2019. Invasion success and management strategies for social Vespula wasps. Annual Review of Entomology 64: 51-71.

Lester PJ, Buick KH, Baty JW, Felden A, Haywood J. 2019. Different bacterial and viral pathogens trigger distinct immune responses in a globally invasive ant. Scientific Reports 9: 5780.

Loope KJ, Baty JW, Lester PJ, Wilson Rankin EE. 2019 Pathogen shifts in a honeybee predator following the arrival of the Varroa mite. Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B 286: 20182499.

Santoro D, Hartley S, Lester PJ. 2019. Behaviourally specialized foragers are less efficient and live shorter lives than generalists in wasp colonies. Scientific Reports 9: 5366.

View more publications at ResearchGate


Teaching in 2020