Is DoC looking after our insects? (AKA “1080 linked to insect decline)
Published in The Greymouth Star 8/10/19
by Dr Jo Pollard, BSc (Hons), PhD
Insects were in the media spotlight earlier this year due to a review published in the journal Biological Conservation. The review showed that insect populations worldwide are declining dramatically, largely due to habitat destruction and pesticides. Their importance in ecological systems, as food for other animals, pest controllers, recyclers and pollinators was spelt out. The collapse of delicate ecological systems seems likely, with impoverished services to be provided in the future by a few remaining insect species. These are good reasons to take much better care of the insects we share the planet with.
So: is our Department of Conservation (DoC) making a positive contribution with its aerial 1080 poisoning programme? New Zealand’s Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage can be seen on YouTube explaining to Parliament this year that poisoning of native wildlands will benefit “insects such as the giant land snail.”
Twelve years ago I examined the material presented for the government’s (Environmental Risk Management Authority, ERMA) reassessment of the pesticide 1080 poison. One of many areas that indicated extreme danger and very poor knowledge was the effect of 1080 on insects and other invertebrates (animals lacking backbones). I was not the only scientist to pick up on this. Retired medical professionals Drs Pat and Quinn Whiting-O’Keefe, in their submission to the ERMA reassessment panel, made a thorough job of bringing all of DoC’s so-called “research” on invertebrates to its knees (demonstrating extreme biases and appalling experimental designs) and describing the unscrupulous cover-up of scientist Mike Meads’ work that indicated 1080 had devastating effects on invertebrates. The Whiting-O’Keefes stated “Instead of doing the unequivocal research that is its legal mandate to protect our native species requires, DoC has attempted to suppress serious and strong indications that it is damaging the very ecosystem that it is paid to protect.”
The ERMA reviewers stated “Due to the level of uncertainty in the toxicity data for invertebrates, and the lack of information on the amounts of baits likely to be eaten, the Agency has not attempted to assess direct exposure to invertebrates.” Nevertheless, there was plenty in the review to be alarmed about: in a study on native cockroaches most died within 2 weeks of eating 0.08% 1080 cereal baits; 100% of aphids died when their broad bean plants were in 0.00005% 1080 culture solution; many species had been found feeding on baits. (Fragmentation ensures that dust and small particles are also spread during aerial baiting.) In streams, the only two studies that had been done indicated effects of 1080 on aquatic invertebrate communities, but the effects had been discounted and not followed up.
Since 2007, knowledge has advanced very little. A search for literature revealed an in-house publication by DoC called “Does rat control benefit forest invertebrates?” This self-described weak study was carried out over five years at Moehau on the Coromandel peninsula, with rat control from various poisons in bait stations. Despite the low power of the experiment to detect anything, a reduction in ants was found (presumably due to ants taking the bait). No benefits of rat control were observed for any invertebrate species. Landcare Research indicated that populations of large invertebrates such as weta and stick insects suffered after 1080 poisoning when there were increased rat numbers, reporting in 2017 that in some forests, aerial 1080 operations “appear to have negative consequences for tree-dwelling invertebrates.”
Where do Mrs Sage’s claims of benefit come from? The DoC story is that aerially spreading 1080 poison on food baits kills harmful predators. But mice are usually found to be far more numerous after 1080 and are major predators of insects and other invertebrates. Rats are also major predators and numbers often escalate to high levels within months. Birds are major predators too, and are culled by 1080. In reality, it seems that many insects are likely to be killed directly by 1080, then the ecological upheaval caused by mass poisoning, such as dramatic fluctuations in predators, affects the survivors.
The last words here were written by Drs Pat and Quinn Whiting-O’Keefe. They were presented to ERMA 12 years ago but are still as relevant as ever. “The strongest argument that 1080 is helping and not harming our forest ecosystems is the cacophony to that effect persistently emanating from DoC at considerable public expense. In our minds this is not enough to justify this extraordinary policy, unique in the world, of indiscriminately poisoning our native forests in defiance of the known principles of ecology and ecosystem management. In medicine, there is a saying that is often attributed to Hippocrates, “First, do no harm”, and so it should be here.”
[Dr Jo Pollard is an independent scientist with particular interests in animal welfare, NZ’s ecology and scientific integrity. For details on the above studies visit www.1080science.co.nz, www.doc.govt.nz and www.landcareresearch.co.nz]