Wasp expert, Dr Philip Spradbery. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
ACT Parks and Conservation is stepping up research into the prolific wasp and any links with climate change.
The agency has called in the University of Canberra to study the wasp’s impact on alpine ecosystems and recreation.
Brett McNamara, the manager, regional operations, said findings would be shared among parks managers in the ACT, NSW and Victorian alps, where insects do all the pollinating. "If we lose our native insects due to European wasps, the whole ecology of the sub-alpine and alpine environments could be compromised forever," he said.
"I am not a scientist, but we are experiencing very mild winters. What I understand to be one of the controlling mechanisms for wasps has been severe cold winters. But here we are in June-July and it has been an incredibly mild winter for us in Canberra. Very dry. Goodness knows what the summer we are about to experience in 2013-14 will hold for us in terms of wasps."
Wasp expert Dr Philip Spradbery has warned Canberra’s milder climate favours European wasps.
"For example, in Britain a European wasp colony produces less than 2000 queens, but in Canberra, up to 20,000 new queens can be reared if the nest successfully overwinters. It is this capacity that makes the species such a successful invader," Dr Spradbery said.
Mr McNamara said the wake-up call for him came last summer, when he continually warned staff during fire-hazard burns in the bush to watch out for wasps.
"We were 1000 metres above sea level, and I am standing there, shooing away wasps as if they were bushflies," he said. "So there is something going on that we need to get on top of, in terms of understanding the impacts and, importantly, the controls."
Mr McNamara related his concerns over lunch with University of Canberra deputy vice chancellor Nicholas Klomp,which led to a PhD scholarship being established.
He said in New Zealand a similar build-up of wasps caused some nature reserves to close. "What we do understand is the impact wasps have from a recreational point of view. We could run the real risk of closing down some of our nature reserves due to wasp numbers.
"At Tidbinbilla [Nature Reserve], we have a staff member who will spend up to 80 per cent of his time in spring and summer putting out control traps and trying to control wasps so we can keep reserves relatively wasp free."
He said when magnified across the whole Australian Alps, it was a significant problem.