Chronicles of a 21st century naturalist.

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NZ Ecology Society Conference

My birthday was last week, and I had a great time! Although I don’t really have any insightful statements, I do have a lot of ecology to talk about. I celebrated by attending this year’s Ecology Conference at Massey University in Palmerston North. I was able to learn a great deal about New Zealand ecology by sitting in on some great talks as well as speaking with some inspiring scientists. I will be summarizing the highlights here.

I’ve always been fascinated by the trade-offs between sexual and asexual reproduction. Sexuality reaps the benefit of genetic diversity, but is a density dependent interaction (you need to be able to find a mate).  Being able to do a direct comparison is difficult because species usually can’t do both – but some do! Like the NZ snail. It reproduces sexually in a diploid state, but is able to switch to diploid (3 or 4 sets of chromosomes) as subsequently reproduces asexually. Laboratory experiments demonstrated the the asexual snails outperform sexual snails in every fitness metric (growth rate, strength, reproduction time, and reproductive output), but are only found in watersheds that are high in nutrients. This suggests that polyploidy is a competitive advantage if there are enough resources for extra sets of chromosomes but is unable to persist in low nutrient conditions, driving asexual populations locally extinct. Mechanisms related to how this with is made remain, but it is certainly a line of research worth continuing.

One research lab investigated the flammability of different types of plants by putting them in a grill! (with standardized procedures)

Through analysis of a wealth of extraordinarily preserved fossils and amber specimens it has been shown that although New Zealand’s contemporary insect communities are quite disparate, in the past a wealth of invertebrate diversity existed on the islands. These specimens date to before the last ice age, and so it is likely that changing climates and range reductions drove many of them extinct.

In an amazing demonstration of stabilizing selection pressure, it was demonstrated that a serious NZ invasive weed, gorse, has evolved larger seeds outside of its home range. In Europe it is paracitized by a beetle larvae, which feasts upon its seeds when young. It prefers larger seeds because they contain more food, thus when the beetle is present it exerts a pressure for smaller seed size. When the beetle is removed from the equation when gorse is transported to new territory that pressure is removed, seed sizes become larger over a few generations as larger seeds mean greater survivability in general. Neat!

I can’t wait to be presenting my own exciting findings next year!



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Pine Tree Massacre

Hello! It has been awhile but I have had some exciting developments, and will highlight them here for you.

First off, I will be spending the next week and the NZ Ecological Society Conference in Palmerston North. There are many exciting talks on the schedule and I hope to be inspired to develop some new research ideas. I will outline my thoughts in my next post. I also have begun preparations for my first experiment! Once I get this set up I will provide an overview as well as some pictures.

This past weekend I went on a trip to Mid Dome, Southland on a wilding tree control exercise with the Wilding Tree Trust. Two species of pine tree (Pinus mugo & Pinus contorta) were introduced as erosion control species and have subsequently become aggressive invasive, domineering native grasslands and forests. In order to preserve native diversity the spread of these trees must be stopped. Their source population is relatively remote, so we had to fly in by helicopter! 10-11 IX10-11VIII

I, along with a number of conservation minded kiwis, set out to control their spread by uprooting and felling small trees. Sir Alan Mark, a famous NZ conservationist, joined us for the trip as he play an active role in managing the program.10-11 XIIIDSCN7722









Over the course of two days I personally killed over 100 trees. The combined efforts of the group proved formidable, as we completely cleared the faces of two foothills.


All in all, it was a great trip full of interesting people and amazing views. It felt great to contribute to my new natural surroundings and lend a hand in preserving what makes New Zealand such an amazing place. I plan on going future trips so hopefully more success stories will follow!10-11 X