Professor Max Suckling

BSc Honours (Massey University); Dip Biotech (Massey University); PhD (Lincoln/Canterbury)



1979                   BSc. (Hons.) 1st Class, Zoology, Massey University

1981                   Dip. Technology, Biotechnology, Distinction, Massey University

1984                   PhD, Entomology, University of Canterbury, Lincoln College

2001                   New Zealand Institute of Directors, Certificate in Company Direction

Employment History

1983–present       Scientist – Principal Scientist, (DSIR, HortResearch, Plant & Food Research)

2004–present       Science Group Leader, Biosecurity, Plant & Food Research

2003–04              Commercial Leader, Sustainable Production & Biosecurity, HortResearch

1998–2002           Portfolio Manager, Pipfruit Sustainable Production/Biosecurity, HortResearch

1991–2012           Programme Leader, Sustainable IPM for NZ Horticulture

2003-2011            Member, Environmental Risk Management Authority of New Zealand

2008–11               Deputy Chair, Environmental Risk Management Authority of New Zealand


2003                    Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand

Research | Current

Biosecurity and Conservation - Listening to the Conversations of Nature

I study the biology and behavior of a wide range of pest and beneficial organisms, with a strong Chemical Ecology and Biosecurity focus.  By listening to the conversations of nature, we can sometimes gain control of insects in novel ways with minimal non-target impacts. We can also gain new knowledge of the world around us. My interests include chemical ecology in diverse ecosystems, invasive species including social insects like wasps and ants, pheromone identification and development for pest suppression, and pollination and honeybee learning, chemically-mediated mechanisms underpinning biological control, and combinations of tactics with the sterile insect technique. My research group based at the science park at Lincoln near Christchurch has a wide range of funding sources and projects running internationally and nationally with many visitors. The vibrancy of the Biosecurity Group in the rural setting of Lincoln offers students a chance to gain a full range of academic and non-academic skills, spanning basic to applied and mission-orientated questions, in a highly social and supportive science working but park-like environment with picnic tables. The groups equipment includes a 2m laminar wind tunnel with tracking system for flying insects (90 fps), electrophysiology suites for insect and portunid crab olfactory receptor neuron and brain recording, honey bee proboscis extension reflex and many other behavioural assays with web cams and machine vision, camera traps, motion sensors for insects, pheromone and semiochemical formulation, a full discovery chemistry laboratory with GCMS and coupled GC-electrophysiology apparatus (2), glasshouses, field laboratories and temperature control units, wasps nests and honeybees >10 hives, diverse field sites, containment facilities and field use of semiochemicals. Discussions with my group - scientists including Dr Ashraf El-Sayed (, Dr Kye Chung Park (electrophysiology) and Dr Flore Mas (pollination) can add valuably to shape student projects.

Teaching | Current

BIOSCI 730 Seminars and assignments

BIOSCI 320 Biosecurity lectures

Postgraduate supervision

MSc underway by Kiran Horrocks on biotic resistance in natural enemies already in NZ against exotic species - based with co-Supervisor Dr Darren Ward, Landcare Research, Tamaki

New projects might include biological control host range and biological safety question with novel methods.

Current doctoral students

  • Lloyd Stringer (Scientist, Biosecurity Group, PFR, Lincoln) (co-S with A/Prof J Beggs and Dr J Kean, AgResearch)
  • Julien Maries, National Science Challenge project on wasps (co-S with Ashraf El-Sayed)

Current masterate students

  • Andrew Twidle (Research Associate, Biosecurity Group, PFR, Lincoln) to November 2017
  • 2017 - Kiran Horrocks (Biotic Resistance to Spotted Wing Drosophila)(CoS Dr Darren Ward, LCR)

Previous PhD supervision

  • Robert Brown (with J Beggs and AM El-Sayed)
  • Fabian Westermann (Victoria University, with Phil Lester)
  • Davide Santoro ((Victoria University, with Phil Lester and Stephen Hartley)

Proposed projects

  • Chemical ecology and control of wasps in the beech forests

As funded as under the National Science Challenge on New Zealand’s Biological Heritage, this project will aim to continue to make and exploit discoveries on wasp chemical ecology for their selective suppression in native beech forests. Supervisors: Prof Max Suckling with Dr Ashraf El-Sayed (Chemical ecology,  The project is based at Lincoln, near Christchurch and links to projects with Assoc. Prof J. Beggs and other National Science Challenge wasp projects.

  • Modelling the Sterile Insect Technique for Codling Moth in NZ

Imported sterile codling moths from Canada can help New Zealand's innovative apple industry in Hawke’s Bay get even greener, in a high tech knowledge intensive approach at landscape scale. Can codling moth be eradicated from Peri-urban Hawkes Bay ? Supervisors: Prof Max Suckling, Prof George Perry (School of Environment) and Dr Jim Walker (NZ Plant and Food Research, Hawkes Bay). MSc starting July 2017.

  • Training honeybees as pollinators

(MSc planned, building on initial successful work in this area with an MBIE programme on pollination).

  • Pheromones in cryptic moth species

How many pheromone-differentiated cryptic species are there in NZ ? We’ve only scratched the surface.  This project seeks students interested in natural product chemistry research and invertebrate pheromones and examines moth biodiversity from a chemotaxonomy perspective.







Science Group Leader and Principal Scientist, The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research Ltd.

Professor, University of Auckland

Project Leader, Plant Biosecurity CRC (Canberra)o April 2016

Project Leader, Queensland Fruit Fly SITplus (Sydney) 

Eradication and Response for Better Border Biosecurity (

Areas of expertise

Biosecurity and Pest Management using Chemical Ecology

I am interested in the biology and behavior of a very wide range of pest and beneficial insects, with a strong Chemical Ecology and Biosecurity focus.

My main interests are chemical ecology of insects and plants in diverse productive and natural ecosystems, invasive species including social insects like wasps and ants, pheromone identification and development for pest eradication and management to replace insecticides, and honeybee learning for improved pollination and biosecurity. My group is based at Lincoln and often has PhD or MSc students from international universities visiting, to get specialist experience in insect electrophysiology, pheromone identification or other topics. Several years ago we took the opportunity of a successful Marsden grant to move into pollination of carnivorous and other unusual plants by native insects, and we have expanded this into work with honeybees to improve pollination of horticultural and valuable arable seed cropsWe have had one PhD student complete the degree through UoA based at Lincoln, and we look forward to hosting more. 

Committees/Professional groups/Services

Special Member, Environmental Protection Authority considerations to import Tamarixia tryoni and Macrolophus pygmaeus for release (2014 and 2016), with nine years regulatory experience on hazardous substances and new organisms including biological control agents for weeds and arthropod pests.

Better Border Biosecurity Theme Leader, Eradication and Response including insect attractants for delimitation of biosecurity targets (2003-2014)

Radio interviews on biological control (example only)

Joint Division Fao/International Atomic Energy Agency Working Group on the Sterile Insect Technique in Lepidotera (consultant, international reviewer, Working Group leader)

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Stringer, L. D., Corn, J. E., Sik Roh, H., Jiménez-Pérez A, Manning, L.-A. M., Harper, A. R., & Suckling, D. M. (2017). Thigmotaxis Mediates Trail Odour Disruption. Scientific Reports, 7 (1).10.1038/s41598-017-01958-z
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Lloyd Stringer
  • Twidle, A. M., Suckling, D. M., Seal, A. G., Fedrizzi, B., Pilkington, L. I., & Barker, D. (2017). Identification of in situ flower volatiles from kiwifruit (Actinidia chinensis var. deliciosa) cultivars and their male pollenisers in a New Zealand orchard. Phytochemistry, 141, 61-69. 10.1016/j.phytochem.2017.05.011
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: David Barker, Bruno Fedrizzi, Lisa Pilkington
  • Suckling, D. M., & El-Sayed, A. M. (2017). Caterpillar-induced plant volatiles attract adult tortricidae. Journal of Chemical Ecology10.1007/s10886-017-0847-7
  • Harper, A. R., Rikard Unelius, C., Townsend, R. J., & Suckling, D. M. (2017). Dose reduction and alternatives to the phenol pheromone in monitoring and management of the grass grub Costelytra zealandica. Pest Management Science10.1002/ps.4599
  • Walker, J. T. S., Suckling, D. M., & Wearing, C. H. (2017). Past, Present, and Future of Integrated Control of Apple Pests: The New Zealand Experience. Annual Review of Entomology, 62, 231-248. 10.1146/annurev-ento-031616-035626
  • El-Sayed, A. M., Knight, A. L., Byers, J. A., Judd, G. J. R., & Suckling, D. M. (2016). Caterpillar-induced plant volatiles attract conspecific adults in nature. Scientific Reports, 6, 37555-37555. 10.1038/srep37555
  • Suckling, D. M., Mas, F., & Park, K. C. (2016). Biosensors to support socially acceptable pest management technologies for surveillance, management, and eradication of invasive species. Paper presented at International Congress of Entomology, Orlando, FLA. 25 September - 30 September 2016. Related URL.
  • Suckling, D. M., Baker, G., Salehi, L., & Woods, B. (2016). Is the Combination of Insecticide and Mating Disruption Synergistic or Additive in Lightbrown Apple Moth, Epiphyas postvittana?. PLOS ONE, 11 (8), e0160710-e0160710. 10.1371/journal.pone.0160710