Pest control strategy ‘big-picture stuff’

.University of Otago student Anna Clark loads a portable DNA sequencer with ship rat DNA in...
.University of Otago student Anna Clark loads a portable DNA sequencer with ship rat DNA in Dunedin.PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
University of Otago student Anna Clark has secured funding of $180,000 to follow her dream of finding a more effective pest control method.

Miss Clark, who is studying towards her doctorate in Dunedin, was raised on an organic market garden in Hurunui in North Canterbury.

Pests were a problem on the farm.

Possums ate the crops and stoats killed the chickens.

She became interested in pest control at high school after going on trapping expeditions as part of a Department of Conservation project in Nina Valley, within the Lewis Pass.

After about two years of catching rats, stoats, ferrets, weasels and possums and reintroducing kiwi to the area, she realised trapping had its limitations as a pest control method.

“There was no end date for our pest control work, and we were conducting a large amount of work for just one valley.’’

She got excited by the prospect of one day finding a new pest control technology.

The funding over three years was for modelling on whether genetic pest control could occur across brushtail possums, stoats, ship rats and house mice.

The different species interacted within an ecosystem and she would consider predator-prey

and competitive relationships which exist between them, such as a stoat eating a rat.

If rats were removed from an ecosystem, then a stoat could potentially eat more of a native species because its main food source had been removed.

She would do multi-species modelling work to reveal the technical development and feasibility of using genetic pest control technology in New Zealand.

A model aims to characterise the evolutionary outcomes of fluctuating population sizes resulting from these species interactions.

‘‘I’m trying to create a computer game where we can figure out, if using the technology, we can take all the target species out of the ecosystem at the same time — it’s big-picture stuff,’’ Miss Clark said.

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