Pest-fighting pioneer clinches Supreme Science Award at 2023 Science NZ Awards

Pest-fighting pioneer clinches Supreme Science Award at 2023 Science NZ Awards

In a momentous victory for New Zealand's battle against pasture pests, AgResearch's emeritus scientist, Stephen Goldson, emerged triumphant at the 2023 Science New Zealand Awards, securing the prestigious Supreme Award. 

Goldson's remarkable career was celebrated for his groundbreaking work in controlling pasture-consuming weevils that were causing staggering losses to the country's primary industries.

Goldson, along with his dedicated team, identified and introduced "parasitoid" wasps to New Zealand, natural enemies of the lucerne, Argentine stem, and clover root weevils. These wasps proved to be highly effective, seeking out the weevils and either killing them or sterilizing them by laying eggs inside the pests. The economic and environmental impact of Goldson's work, sustained over a considerable period, set him apart as the deserving recipient of the Supreme Award.

The weevil invasion, which wreaked havoc on New Zealand's pastures decades ago, cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars annually. 

"It was a problem insecticides weren’t able to deal with, for many reasons. These pests together were costing about $400 to $500 million a year to the primary industries," he said. 

"We had three weevil pests, and we’ve suppressed them all, using natural enemies we’ve brought in from where these pests came from."

Describing the introduction of the wasps as "one chance in a thousand," Goldson highlighted the long-term, expensive, and risky nature of the project, underscoring the importance of teamwork in achieving success.

The positive outcomes from Goldson's work extend beyond mere pest suppression. The introduction of the parasitoid wasps has led to a reduction in lost production from depleted pastures, minimised insecticide use, and mitigated the environmental impacts associated with chemical treatments.

However, Goldson's recent research has sounded an alarm, revealing that the weevils are evolving resistance against the introduced wasps. This discovery has prompted urgent collaborative efforts with the University of Otago to delve into the genetics of biocontrols, such as the wasps, aiming to enhance their reliability and efficiency.

Goldson's legacy extends beyond his groundbreaking pest control efforts. His role in leading strategic research at AgResearch and the predecessor organization MAF Technology has positioned him as a prominent thinker on science and its crucial role in New Zealand. The Supreme Award received at the 2023 Science New Zealand Awards adds to a series of honours bestowed upon Goldson since 2000.

Reflecting on the recognition, Goldson expressed his satisfaction. 

"I’m very glad to have made a contribution." 

As he continues to steer efforts toward developing new environmentally friendly methods to counter evolving pests, Goldson's dedication and pioneering spirit serve as an inspiration in the scientific community.