Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Issue 3, February 2014

In this issue:


Welcome to Landcare Research’s first stakeholder e-newsletter of 2014. The idea of these regular newsletters is to keep end-users up to date with new research and outcomes across four key areas of our work; weeds and pests, sustainable development, land and water and finally, biodiversity.

In this issue we have a subtle focus on ecosystem services - the benefits people obtain from nature. – There has been significant interest in ecosystem services in recent years and Landcare Research is proud to produce, through our publishing division, Manaaki Whenua Press, a new book, Ecosystem Services in New Zealand which was edited by Landcare Research Principal Scientist, Dr John Dymond.

Ecosystem Services in New Zealand was launched in Wellington two weeks ago and has been very well received by policy makers.

John Dymond says the term ecosystem services is more than a fancy name for what we used to call natural resource use.

“The term provides more recognition of what the resources are being used for. That is, human well-being.”

The ecosystem services approach to managing natural resources is gaining traction here and internationally, particularly following the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment determined that over the past 50 years humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period in human history.

“These changes have contributed to net gains in human well-being and economic development,” says John, “but with increased risks of non-linear changes, and the exacerbation of poverty for some groups.”

We hope you enjoy this e-newsletter and links and please, if you have any queries, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Weed & Pest Management

topCan native trees grow through scotch broom in dry environments? Experiences in a North Canterbury Conservation Area?

Scotch broom (<em>Cytisus scoparius</em>)Nitrogen–fixing plants such as gorse have been advocated as ‘nurse–crops’ to aid indigenous vegetation restoration, especially in moist environments. Very little work has focused on scotch broom as a nurse crop in dry locations, but re–measurement of a DOC trial by a team led by Larry Burrows from Landcare Research indicates broom can provide significant benefits.

In 2000 DOC developed a restoration management plan for the Balmoral Fire Lookout Conservation Area in North Canterbury. The area has had a long history of human disturbance including burning, grazing and weed invasion. When the management plan was drawn up broom was already common and spreading on the lower slopes.

It was proposed to ‘kick–start’ woody restoration while simultaneously controlling broom through re–colonisation by native tree species that would, over time, overtop and smother it, and a trial was instigated to find out whether this was realistic.

The trial

Seeds or cuttings for planting into the broom were sourced from a limited range of native tree and shrub species present in the Conservation Area, and from the closest known sources beyond. Species included kōwhai (Sophora microphylla), kānuka (Kunzea erecioides), karamū (Coprosma robusta), kōhūhū (black matipo, Pittosporum tenuifolium) and lancewood (Pseudopanax crassifolium.

Five areas of ~0.2 ha within blocks of broom of various ages were selected for trial plantings, and fenced. In some blocks, the broom was young (~1–3 years old), waist–high and still somewhat grassy underneath at the time of planting, while in other blocks the broom was already head–high and provided an almost continuous canopy with a ground–cover of broom litter (~4–7 years old). A small handful of remnant kānuka and cabbage trees (Cordyline australis) up to 6 m tall remained in the vicinity so we know trees will overtop broom.

In spring 2001 and 2002 tree and shrub seedlings were planted. Plants were distributed throughout the blocks and there was no weed control or watering at any stage.

In 2003 and 2006, DOC recorded survival and condition along three transects through two of the blocks and marked the plants. In May 2012, Larry worked with DOC staff to relocate all the marked plants.

Trial results

Despite the very harsh conditions at the site and despite seedlings getting no help to aid establishment or survival, they have done remarkably well. More than 30% of all trees planted have survived in one block, and >70% in another block, although some individual species have done much better.

Spectacular survival in a dry environment was facilitated by broom

Considering the harsh, semi–arid local environment, the survival and growth has been spectacularly successful and appears that broom had facilitated survival of planted seedlings, acting as a ‘nurse crop’. The trial results suggest broom can facilitate native tree establishment and growth, even in a dry environment. Furthermore, if reversion to native trees is your goal, an implication of the trial is that planting seedlings directly into scotch broom may be more successful and cost–effective than attempting to remove the broom first and planting later.

For more information:

Contact: Larry Burrows

topTaking the sting out of wasps

Wasps — voracious predators that cause declines in native biodiversityControl measures and more funding are needed to stop the havoc being wreaked on New Zealand’s native forests by wasps, say scientists who hosted a workshop held recently at Victoria University.

“The target is well defined—summer wasp densities need to be reduced by 80 to 90 percent of current levels,” says Professor Phil Lester from Victoria’s School of Biological Sciences.

“Over the last few years, scientists have been hamstrung by a lack of wasp control technologies appropriate to New Zealand conditions.”

A Wasp Tactical Group established at the workshop welcomes participation from organisations counting the cost of wasps. Its goal is to develop a pathway to a New Zealand free of the wasp burden.

“German and common wasps can reach densities of over 350 wasps per square metre,” says Dr Darren Ward of Landcare Research.

“Wasps are so abundant in many native forests that they pose a major health and safety risk to those working and playing outdoors. They are voracious predators that cause declines in native biodiversity and reduce our ability to enjoy recreation activities.”

Professor Lester says efforts to control wasps are currently limited, although wasp control through bait stations could be an effective solution.

“We need to attack the wasp problem in the same way that we carry out intensive stoat and rat control in national parks but, unfortunately, the investment in getting these systems on to the market isn’t happening yet.”

Eric Edwards from the Department of Conservation agrees. “A large scale approach is needed and researching options for biological control, such as using pathogens and parasites over the one million hectares currently affected, is a wise investment in sustainable wasp control.”

Many at the workshop were surprised at the scale of New Zealand’s wasp problem and most participants had wasp-associated problems that needed a combined effort to find solutions for management.

The scientists who organised the workshop say it is clear that the impact of wasps on biodiversity warrants a well-funded investigative programme and benefits would extend to other sectors.

The workshop brought together researchers from Victoria University and Landcare Research along with people affected by wasps in conservation and recreation such as iwi, regional councils, pest control organisations, and the forestry and beekeeping sectors.

Contact: Darren Ward

topOnline collaboration to discuss Predator-Free New Zealand

The concept of a predator-free New Zealand will gain further momentum this week with enthusiasts taking part in a 10-day online collaboration to explore potential solutions.

The Predator-Free New Zealand Challenge, staged by Landcare Research, uses an online ‘crowd-sourcing’ tool to enable many people to generate ideas, or expand on the ideas of others, including researchers and pest management professionals.

“The possibility of ridding the country of introduced vertebrate pests – and the obvious benefits to our precious native flora and fauna, to our economy and our sense of national identity – has captured the imagination of New Zealanders since being raised by the late Sir Paul Callaghan in 2011,” says Landcare Research’s Dr Bruce Warburton.

“But to overcome the significant technological, social, economic and legal challenges, we’ll need some creative thinking, something New Zealanders excel at.”

The online event is open to anyone interested in pest management in New Zealand. “You don’t have to be a scientist or pest manager to contribute, and you don’t need to be involved for the whole 10 days.

“We want the Predator-Free New Zealand Challenge to be taken up by people from all walks of life – from farmers to students, to pest management professionals and people in communities – to engage in an open, honest, and even revolutionary online conversation about the future control of New Zealand’s pests.”

Top ideas and participants will go into a draw for prizes.

The Predator-Free New Zealand Challenge

People can log on to the Predator-Free New Zealand Challenge at Firstly, the Challenge will ask participants to share their ideas, facts, examples, and discuss trade-offs that they believe are important if we are to achieve a Predator-Free New Zealand by 2040. It will then ask participants to build upon shared ideas to develop creative solutions.

Contact: Bruce Warburton

topPrestigious medal awarded to Landcare Research scientists

Dr Graham Nugent, Bruce Warburton, Dave Morgan, Peter Sweetapple and Penny Fisher are the 2013 recipients of the Shorland MedalOngoing work by a team of Landcare Research wildlife ecology and management researchers to resolve problems caused by mammal pests has been recognised by their peers.

The Shorland Medal is presented each year by the New Zealand Association of Scientists to an individual or team in recognition of major and continued contribution to basic or applied research that has added significantly to scientific understanding or resulted in significant benefits to society.

Dr Graham Nugent, Bruce Warburton, Dave Morgan, Peter Sweetapple and Penny Fisher are the 2013 recipients in recognition of their outstanding leadership and prolonged contribution through research into new and improved solutions to resolving the major environmental and economic problems in New Zealand caused by introduced mammal pests, particularly possums.

The team has applied a wide range of skills in wildlife ecology, disease epidemiology, computer modelling, animal physiology and behaviour, toxicology, animal welfare science and product development to improving the sustainability and costs of strategies and tools available to management agencies to deal with the contribution of these pests to the persistence of bovine TB in livestock and the destruction of native biodiversity and ecosystems.

The research has focused on determining the role of various pest species as disease vectors and native biodiversity threats; new pest-behaviour led strategies for local pest elimination with minimised environmental and non-target species risks and reduced pest animal welfare impacts; and improved approaches to monitoring operational and outcome benefits.

Together this research has significantly increased the certainty of successful pest management.

Underpinning this are over 50 journal publications from the team since 2009, which are widely cited both nationally and internationally.

Contact: Graham Nugent

top‘Possum Stomp’ proving popular

Playora websiteA just-released downloadable smartphone ‘App’ alerting the user to the plight of New Zealand’s native birds is proving popular just two months after its official launch.

Possum Stomp’ is a fun game where a kiwi tries to protect its nest from zombie possums, and is a teaser for a wider educational online game called ‘Ora’ that will be introduced later this year. It is also a precursor of new tools to challenge how New Zealanders think about pest control.

“In ‘Possum Stomp’ the player helps the Stompy the Kiwi to run around and stomp on the zombie possums before they steal his eggs. The zombie possums represent all invasive pests and the kiwi represents New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity,” researcher Pen Holland says.

Pen says there have been downloads from New Zealand, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Australia, USA and France. The App costs NZ$1.29 to download and all revenue will go towards the development and running of the project.

Meanwhile, when the game ‘Ora’ is released it will allow players to undertake pest control operations by selecting and utilising a range of different methods, and teach them how to measure the outcomes of their choices.

However, for every decision taken by the player, there will consequences, says researcher Bruce Warburton.

“One of the main aims is to teach people about the complexities of managing pests in New Zealand. If people don’t want to use a particular tool, say 1080, they don’t have to but there may well be consequences related to budget, biological, or regulatory constraints.”

Landcare Research mathematical models developed by Pen Holland run underneath the game and show participants what would happen to the forest canopy as a result of the pest strategies they choose.

The gaming environment marks a significant change in how science can be translated from research to the public and both researchers are hoping the gaming medium proves to be effective.

“It’s educational but we’re also going to observe peoples’ strategies for pest management and use that to understand public perceptions as well as crowd-source some specific management solutions,” Pen says.

Development of the Ora and Possum Stomp games are also an element of a wider research programme led by Bruce aimed at developing new technologies for pest control.

The game has been developed in collaboration with Hazel Bradshaw, a PhD student at the Human Interface Technology Lab (University of Canterbury), who is studying how the gaming environment can be utilised for knowledge transfer.

Contact: Pen Holland
P: 021-027-07547

Website: Ora save the forest!

Sustainable Development

topThe first overview of Ecosystem Services in New Zealand

Ecosystem Services in New Zealand book coverEcosystem Services in New Zealand, a 538-page publication on the conditions and trends of ecosystem services in this country, was launched at the Ministry for the Environment’s offices in Wellington last week.

Edited by Landcare Research Principal Scientist Dr John Dymond, with contributions from more than 100 of New Zealand’s leading scientists and academics, the book provides the first overview of ecosystem services in New Zealand.

Ecosystem services are categorised as ‘provisioning’, such as food, timber and freshwater; ‘regulating’, such as air quality, climate and pest regulation; ‘cultural’ such as recreation and sense of belonging; and ‘supporting’, such as soil quality and natural habitat resistance to weeds.

John says the book was produced to improve understanding of the functioning of New Zealand’s ecosystems. “It’s important that our management of ecosystem services is based on sound knowledge.

“We didn’t set out to create a scorecard but it’s inevitable that people will look at a publication like this and ask ‘How are we doing?’

“When we consider that in the past 50 years, humans have transformed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any other period in human history, I think that on the whole New Zealand’s story is a reasonably balanced one.

“If we take a fairly simplistic, high-level view of the trending of indicators over the past 20 years, most have shown no net change, or both improvements and deterioration at different locations.”

However, John says the number of gains have been fairly evenly matched by losses.

“On the positive side, we are seeing improvements in pest management in cities and native forest, growth in indigenous forest and shrubland, and health and environmental benefits from less use of open fires and better home insulation. On the negative side, some examples are the decline in pollination services. We are losing biodiversity, particularly rare species and in freshwater and wetland environments, and also water is being over-allocated in some catchments.

“There are no surprises there,” says John. “In producing this book we haven’t set out to unearth any new revelations. It was simply about synthesising information that has already been produced and making it more readily available.”

Ecosystem Services in New Zealand (published by Manaaki Whenua Press and available from Nationwide Book Distributors, ph: 0800 990 123)

Contact: John Dymond

topLooking at Soils Through a New Lens

On the subject of ecosystem services, a new Landcare Research Science Series publication puts that focus on our productive soils.

Looking at soils through the natural capital and ecosystem services lens, has been written by Landcare Research scientists Oshadhi Samarasinghe and Suzie Greenhalgh, and former colleague, Éva-Terézia Vesely.

Oshadhi says this approach to informing decision-making provides an opportunity for an enriched perspective on the value of our soils and how we can articulate those values.

As well as being Volume 41 in the Landcare Research Science Series, this 37-page publication is the first in a series of Policy Guidance documents Landcare Research will be producing.

The Policy Guidance series will complement the shorter Policy Brief series of papers that have been designed to provide insights for decision-makers in government, councils and industry. In the latest edition, Natasha Berkett and Jim Sinner of Cawthron Institute discuss collaborative processes and the roles of council.

Contact: Suzie Greenhalgh

topPaddock Identification Using Satellite Imagery

Landcare Research and ECan are working together on an innovative project to identify the land use and land cover in Canterbury.

Detailed, up-to-date information on agricultural land is critical for purposes such as crop monitoring, production forecasting and the modelling of farming impacts.

Remote sensing imagery is often used to provide information over large areas that would otherwise be difficult and time-consuming to gather. However, the manual interpretation of this imagery is also time-consuming and not practical for large areas requiring regular updates.

A low-resolution image of the study area in central Canterbury where the boundaries of about 58,000 paddocks have been mappedIn this project, automated techniques developed by Landcare Research are being used to classify the content captured in a series of satellite images.

The researchers have been able to successfully identify boundaries (e.g. fences, roads, hedgerows or water channels) even when the vegetation on either side is identical, and identify paddocks containing the same crop and land management despite changes in appearance over time.

“This is of considerable benefit to ECan given that land use on the plains has changed significantly over the past decade or so – mostly conversion into dairy farms,” says researcher, Stella Belliss.

“This typically involves the wholesale removal of existing fences and shelter belts, the installation of large pivot irrigators and new paddock layouts. Cropping farms are also dynamic, with a large variety of seed, grain and vegetable crops grown, and several crops per year in some paddocks, in addition to changes such as new irrigation infrastructure.”

The figure below shows a small portion of the generated paddock boundary map (black lines) compared with a farm map (white lines). In general, the automatically identified paddocks match those from the farm map. While the line work is not as straight as the farm map, it is adequate for the purpose of classifying paddocks over large areas.

Detail of the mapping: The generated paddock map (black lines) compared to the farm paddock map (white lines)Some paddocks (e.g. C, G and RR) are over-segmented. This is likely a result of real boundaries in one or more of the images and could be caused by partial grazing, harvesting or cultivation, or the paddock being split into two different crops.

Conversely, adjacent paddocks W and J are combined which indicates they had the same crop/treatment throughout the image sequence. Again, this is not a concern for the purpose of assessing land use change. Smaller polygons (not treated as paddocks) are sometimes identified along paddock boundaries. These are probably trees, buildings or water troughs and should be excluded. The farm homestead and surrounding garden (top centre) is an example of these smaller non–paddock polygons.

Contact: Stella Belliss

Land and water

topLess carbon in dairy farm topsoil

Do dairy farms would have lower soil carbon stocks than adjacent dry stock farms?Dairy farms have less carbon in the topsoil than adjacent dry stock farms, according to new research.

University of Waikato MSc student Alice Barnett, along with Landcare Research’s Dr Paul Mudge, has compared soil carbon levels on adjacent dairy and dry stock farms, and found an 8-tonne per hectare difference in soil carbon in the A horizon (the top layer of soil).

A previous study of New Zealand soils under different grazing systems indicated that soils under dairy farms on flat land had lost significant amounts of carbon and nitrogen in the last few decades, whereas soils under dry stock farming had not. More recently, additional research suggested that it was actually some soils orders that were particularly sensitive to losses of soil carbon.

To test whether dairy farms would have lower soil carbon stocks than adjacent dry stock farms, samples were collected to a depth of 60 cm, from 25 paired dairy and dry stock farms. The paired sampling sites were on average 108 m apart, on the same soil with similar slope, aspect and topography. The average stocking rate for dairy farms (24 stock units/ha) was considerably higher than on dry stock farms (14 stock units/ha).

Total carbon and total nitrogen stocks across the whole soil profile (0–0.6 m) showed no significant differences between the dairy and dry stock sites. However, when the soil horizons were considered separately, the researchers found the A horizon of dairy farms had significantly less carbon (8 tonnes per hectare) than dry stock farms.

Example of soil profiles at one of the paired dry stock (left) and dairy farm (right) sites. Image: Alice BarnettThe A horizon thickness under dairy farms was also significantly shallower with a greater bulk density than the dry stock farms, so that the total sampled soil mass was the same.

Paul says one possible reason for the difference in soil carbon was higher stocking rates of dairy systems, where large dairy cows exert greater physical pressure on the soil, consume more above-ground biomass, and deposit more intense urine patches that have been linked to solubilisation of soil carbon.

The results are consistent with previous research, and suggest that dairy farming has had a detrimental impact on soil quality, relative to dry stock farms, but that particular soil orders (Allophanic and Gley) were most sensitive.

The precise location of all sampling sites has been recorded using GPS, making it easier to re-sample the sites in future to check for long-term trends or do more detailed process based studies to understand mechanisms behind observed trends. Indeed, Tim Norris, a MSc student at the University of Waikato (supervised by Louis Schipper), is currently re-sampling the sites using a faster and cheaper coring technique that will capture spatial variability better.

Contact: Paul Mudge

topFreshwater algae identification, information and action resource up and running

<em>Dictyosphaerium</em>, Lake Rotoiti, X640A new website hosted by Landcare Research will assist members of the community to find, collect, and identify freshwater algae.

Researcher Phil Novis says freshwater algae are natural, essential, and often beautiful inhabitants of lakes, ponds, wetlands, and streams.  However, they can also cause problems when they occur in abundance, resulting in toxin production or unsightly growths, and may be obvious indicators of contamination. 

The website was initiated by Stephen Moore, a gifted entomologist and science communicator who tragically died after a long battle with cancer, before he could see its completion. Stephen wrote that “this website will be useful to anyone interested in observing and identifying algae, and who has access to a compound microscope - even a very basic one. It’s aimed at the level of community groups with little previous knowledge, such as school classes or volunteer groups.”

Phil says the identification key, with illustrated glossary, will enable users to detect nuisance algae, such as potentially toxic cyanobacteria or Didymo, and will help people explore this fascinating – and incredibly diverse – microscopic world.

Contact: Phil Novis

Website: Freshwater algae

topMotueka River ICM legacy lives on …

The Sherry River Catchment community was one of two winners for the 'River Story Award' for community actionThe Motueka Integrated Catchment Management Programme, led by Landcare research’s Andrew Fenemor was a long–running (11–year) multi–disciplinary, multi–stakeholder research to improve the management of land, freshwater, and near–coastal environments in catchments with multiple, interacting, and potentially conflicting land uses. The Sherry River catchment was one of the great success stories, with the local community and researchers working together to achieve significant improvements in water quality through stock management, fencing waterways, riparian plantings, wetland covenants and a sound programme of regular monitoring.

Their efforts were again recognised late last year at the Morgan Foundation's River Awards ceremony in Wellington. Awards were presented for rivers and streams with the most improved water quality as measured by reductions in E.Coli over the past 10 years (awards were not applied for). The Sherry River Catchment community was one of two winners for the 'River Story Award' for community action. Local farmer Bill Booth and his wife Jeanette received the award on behalf of the group, with Barbara Stuart of NZ Landcare Trust, and Andrew Fenemor in attendance.

Contact: Andrew Fenemor


topRate of Tree Carbon Accumulation Increases Continuously with Tree Size

Susan Wiser from Landcare Research is one of the authors of a paper recently published in the journal Nature. The paper shatters a common assumption about how trees grow. It turns out that trees do not slow in their growth rate as they get older and larger — instead, their growth keeps accelerating.

This means that big, old trees are better at absorbing carbon from the atmosphere than commonly assumed. An international team of researchers compiled growth measurements of 673,046 trees belonging to 403 tree species from tropical, subtropical and temperate regions across six continents, calculating the mass growth rates for each species and then analysing for trends across the 403 species.

This study showed that for most tree species, mass growth rate increases continuously with tree size — in some cases, large trees appear to be adding the carbon mass equivalent of an entire smaller tree each year. This does not necessarily translate into a net increase in carbon storage for an entire forest. Old trees, after all, can die and lose carbon back into the atmosphere as they decompose. However, while they are alive, large old trees play a disproportionately important role in a forest’s carbon dynamics.

It is as if the star players on your favourite sports team were a bunch of 90-year-olds, Susan says.

Contact: Susan Wiser

Online article: Nature (2014) doi:10.1038/nature12914

topThe generic taxonomy of the Nothofagaceae is revised

New Zealand no longer has <em>Nothofagus</em> forest – we have <em>Lophozonia</em> forest and <em>Fuscospora</em> forest.This understatement is the opening sentence of a just published paper by Peter Heenan and Rob Smissen New Zealand no longer has Nothofagus forest – we have Lophozonia forest and Fuscospora forest.

The Nothofagaceae family are known as the southern beech forests.

When European botanists first encountered the beech–like trees forming extensive forests in the southern–hemisphere in the late eightenth and early nineteenth centuries, they thought them to be close relatives of the northern hemisphere beech trees they were familiar with. So, they gave the trees names in the beech genus Fagus of the family Fagaceae (beechs, oaks, and chestnuts). As more was learned of the southern beeches they eventually (by the beginning of the twentieth century) became accepted as a distinct genus Nothofagus (false beech). But by the 1960s evidence was accumulating that the southern beeches were not just distinct from the northern beeches, but no more related to Fagus than they are to birches, walnuts, she–oaks and many other species of the order Fagales. Consequently the southern beeches were transferred to their own family Nothofagaceae.

Prior to the revision by Peter and Rob (2013), Nothofagaceae contained just one genus, Nothofagus including 42 species, all growing in the southern hemisphere.

Peter and Rob undertook a phylogenetic analysis of morphological characters and also mapped these characters onto a recently published DNA–derived evolutionary or phylogenetic tree. These analyses showed that four branches (clades) of the Nothofagaceae family ‘tree’, currently treated as subgenera of Nothofagus, have distinctive DNA and morphological characteristics that warrant them being recognised as genera in their own right. In fact, apart from a trimmed down Nothofagus, two of the clades already had old names as genera (Lophozonia and Trisyngyne) but these had not been taken up, were largely forgotten, and needed updating. The remaining clade becomes the new genus Fuscospora.

Following international nomenclature procedures and criteria, Peter and Rob recircumscribed these four genera as:

  • Nothofagus as now encompassing five species all from southern South America
  • Trisyngyne as comprising 25 species from New Caledonia and New Guinea
  • Fuscospora and Lophozonia, with six and seven species respectively, as occurring in New Zealand, southern South America and Australia

To summarise for New Zealand:

  • Silver beech is now Lophozonia menziesii (it prefers higher altitude, wetter conditions)
  • Red beech is Fuscospora fusca (this species prefers the foothills and inland river valley floors particularly where soils are fertile and well drained)
  • Hard beech is Fuscospora truncata and black beech is Fuscospora solandri (both are found in the lowland areas of the North Island and northern South Island)
  • Mountain beech is Fuscospora cliffortioides (it grows in the mountains and on less fertile soils than silver beech, often forming the tree line at high altitudes)
  • The paper presents details of the research analyses and taxonomic descriptions for the Nothofagaceae family and the four genera, long with new combinations where required for the species of each genus.

Contact: Peter Heenan

Online article: Phytotaxa (2013) doi:

topSub-Antarctic science

Landcare Research has a long history of research on Auckland and Campbell Islands stretching back to the 1950s, including studies of soils, vegetation, birds, insects and introduced animals. It is difficult and expensive to visit and undertake scientific research on the islands and we take the opportunities to do so as they arise. Janet Wilmshurst, Sarah Richardson and Matt McGlone were therefore delighted to be invited on the first leg of the AAE expedition to Auckland, Campbell and Snares Islands.

Sarah Richardson says the trip was highly successful. “We collected 16 new sediment cores for pollen and ancient DNA analyses, including sites of exceptional conservation significance on Enderby, Ewing and Snares Islands. We also sampled vegetation, soils and plant traits along two elevational transects on Auckland Island to determine how treeline in these forest communities might respond to changing climates.”

Landcare Research now holds the most comprehensive suite of palaeoecological records for the subantarctic islands and alongside our quantitative vegetation data, we are uniquely-positioned to contribute to DOC’s Conservation Management and Research strategies for these islands, as well as the upcoming Deep South Challenge.

Contact: Sarah Richardson

topEcoGene update

EcoGene continues to manage a steady workload of DNA–diagnostics services for a range of national and international clients, stakeholders and end-users working in the areas of biosecurity and biodiversity. Late last year, strategic and operational workshops were held to map future plans and these highlighted the need for additional expertise to grow the operation.

In addition to Frank Molinia as Operations Manager and Robyn Howitt as Laboratory Director, four Landcare Research specialist science staff have been added to the leadership team. They are:Thomas Buckley (invertebrates), Gary Houliston (plants), Bevan Weir (microbes) and Daniel White (wildlife genetics/pathogen discovery/bioinformatics). These ‘four pillars’ give EcoGene strength and breadth across different areas of expertise, and consequently will increase opportunities for collaboration and new services.

The leadership team now formally meet quarterly and those interested in EcoGene services are encouraged to contact these Technical Leaders directly to discuss how we can continue providing the services they need.

Contact: Frank Molinia

Website: Ecogene

Contact: Leadership team

topForensic Botany - or plant identification services

Every year, Ines Schonberger and the Plant Systematics team at the Allan Herbarium carry out over 1000 identifications of plants from the general public, DoC, Regional Councils, MPI, universities and other research institutions, other national and international herbaria, nurseries and businesses. As well as identification, services provided also include information about bio-status, distribution, nomenclature, “weediness” and toxicity.

While many of the plant identifications involve relatively common introduced or native plants, there are a number of unusual requests, and even more unusual findings.

  • Food contaminantion; Hard and unpalatable seeds in a seed mix for toppings on baked goods were identified as Polygonaceae nuts, from the weed, Polygonum (or one of the segregate genera related to it). The grower of the seeds could then be alerted of the weed growing with the seed plants.
  • A plant fragment found in the stomach contents of a poisoned donkey was identified as Rhododendron as some morphological characteristics were still visible in the semi-digested stomach contents.
  • Grass seeds and plant fragments recovered from a murder victim’s clothing included at least 8 different species – helping Police to locate the crime scene.
  • A “thorn” turned out to be the fruit of the Puncture Vine (Tribulus terrestris L.) Native to warm temperate and tropical regions of southern Europe, southern Asia, throughout Africa, and in northern Australia, the plant is widely naturalised in the Americas and also in Australia south of its native range. Interestingly, we understand that Puncture Vine “thorns” have been used as weapons in Africa - smeared with the poisonous juice of Acokanthera venenata and placed on the path of their victims.
  • A rather uncommon ornamental tree/shrub that caused a bad allergical reaction of a member of the public was identified as Abelia triflora. Native of the W. Himalayas from Afghanistan to C. Nepal
  • Stock poisoning: we identified fragments of the poisonous Tūpākihi, also called Tutu (Coriaria species) in the rumen contents from a dead Angus cattle beast. The plant could then be tracked down and removed from the cattle owners’ property.
  • Gribbles Veterinary Pathology sent a plant sample for identification. 2 calves have died and 2 other fallen ill after eating this plant. We could identify the plant as Prunus laurocerasus (Cherry laurel), a quite poisonous plant.
  • New Zealand Racing Laboratory Services Limited asked for the identification of seeds that have been given to race horses before a race. These seeds were suspected to make the horses go faster. Despite the seeds being quite a bit “damaged” (chipped and ground). The larger fragments showed clearly the characteristics of buckwheat seeds (with the hull removed): Fagopyrum esculentum.

Besides the actual identification of a plant specimen – photo IDs seem to become more and more popular. We can help in most cases, but have to request actual material from time to time.

Many identifications are for biosecurity purposes, often found on or in goods at the border or being illegally smuggled. Sometimes we find more than what is expected.

  • An aquatic plant attached to stalks of garlic from China were identified as Wolffia globosa, a free-floating plant measuring 1 mm across. It is found in East and Southeast Asia, Africa, Australia and is one of the world’s smallest flowering plants, so easily overlooked. Wollfia globosa has not been recorded from New Zealand. Surprisingly we also found that the leaves and stalks thought to be part of the garlic were actually a Schoenoplectus species, which while not a potential threat, reminded us of the value in looking at the whole sample and keeping an open mind.
  • Gauze and potting mix imported from Belgium contained Bryum coronatum - a widespread plant in New Zealand and not a significant biosecurity risk. However, we noted that the potting mix contains a high fraction of Sphagnum which would be difficult to identify and might not be sterile.We also noted that there were living arthropods (weevils?) among the moss stems.
  • Small epiphytic plant samples found on Beaucarnea guatemalensis (a common indoor plant also known as elephant's foot, ponytail palm) imported from Guatemala included at least three moss species and one or more hepatic species. We expressed our concerns about the importation of the plant carrying the identified cryptogams. Exotic representatives of the cryptogam genera Sematophyllum and Philonotis, particularly, would likely have potential to become established as adventives in New Zealand.
  • An algae on felt fishing boots from the USA caused alarm at the border. We found that the sample contained Cladophora glomerata, a widely distributed freshwater alga that is already known from New Zealand.

The Allan Herbarium is a Nationally Significant Collection consisting of over half a million specimens of plants and lichens. The collections and their associated data are critical to our knowledge of the New Zealand biota and underpin biodiversity and biosecurity research and management, and are the primary component of integrated information resources required by end-users such as DOC, EPA, MPI, and Regional Councils. The collection is a permanent record of New Zealand’s native, naturalized and cultivated flora, and a resource for research.

If you need help with plant identification, please contact : Ines Schonberger

Plant Identification Service

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