Miss Anna Frances Probert


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Doctoral Candidate - Doctor of Philosophy

Research | Current

PhD research: Assessing risk to native ecosystems: using ants as a model

The introduction (deliberate or accidental) of new species can have severe implications for native ecosystems, particularly in New Zealand, an isolated nation with high levels of endemism. The impacts of introduced species are diverse, affecting economic, environmental and social sectors. While the risks to the economy and health can be relatively easily predicted and quantified with confidence, assessing and quantifying the risks to native ecosystem is more difficult.

Risk assessments, or risk analyses are important tools in biosecurity, which attempt to identify the potential impacts introduced organisms may have on their new environment. However, they are seldom validated, particularly in the field. Furthermore, predicting potential impacts on recipient biodiversity and ecosystems in New Zealand is very difficult because: 1)  Often new-to-New Zealand species have not being introduced elsewhere and thus, very little information is available; and 2) New Zealand has unique biodiversity, indigenous people, and ecosystems. It is not possible to directly transfer knowledge from other countries.

My research will work on a model system to address the congruence between ‘potential’ and ‘actual’ pest impacts on ecosystems. The model system chosen, exotic ants, reflects the existence of risk assessment tools for these organisms, and the importance of ants as potential pests to multiple sectors, as evidenced by MPI’s investment in the National Invasive Ant Surveillance (NIAS) programme. Evidence of both direct and indirect consequences of invasive ants on ecosystems have been recorded. For instance, they may occur through trophic interactions such as predation and herbivory, or can impact on the native species and communities through competition, pollination disruption and have been recorded to impact ecosystem processes. There are 29 established ant species in New Zealand, and impacts are known only for one species (Argentine ant, Linepithema humile; Stanley et al. 2012).  An improved understanding of the impacts of ants established in New Zealand will not only enhance pest management decision-making, but will also enhance our ability to assess the risk of ants at the border.

Postgraduate supervision

Dr Margaret Stanley

Dr Darren Ward

Assoc. Prof. Jacqueline Beggs


Ministry for Primary Industries and University of Auckland Partnership Doctoral Scholarship

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)