Detecting drought with remote sensing – some preliminary results

Posted by Kshama Awasthi

Green vegetation growth is a useful indicator of drought events and vegetation indices such normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) and enhanced vegetation index (EVI) are often used for the assessment of agricultural drought. I have been evaluating the sensitivity of these indices to detect the impact of drought on forest areas in various parts of Aotearoa New Zealand. In general, a higher NDVI or EVI value represents more healthy vegetation so I expected to see a decline in the vegetation indices during drought.

Picture1Right: NDVI values for the Hunua Ranges for the month of March

There was a slight decline in NDVI in 2013 during the drought. To confirm the role of drought in the decline in NDVI, I am using soil moisture deficit (SMD) data from NIWA. SMD is calculated using incoming daily rainfall (mm), outgoing daily potential evapotranspiration (mm) and fixed available water capacity that is the amount of water in the soil reservoir that plants can use.

picture 2 v 4

Above: Soil moisture deficit and vegetation health indices for summer months at Hunua Ranges.

As expected, the NDVI (r2=55%) and EVI (r2=65%) both show a strong relationships with SMD which indicates NDVI and EVI values are responsive to drought.


Above: Relationships between soil moisture deficit and NDVI and EVI vegetation indices for summertime at Hunua Ranges, 2006-2017.

EVI values decreased more in response to drought conditions as compared to NDVI, indicating that EVI is more sensitive then NDVI on the onset of drought conditions.

Since the relationship between EVI and SMD is stronger than the correlation between NDVI and SMD, EVI can be the better indicator of drought detection in forest as compared to the NDVI as EVI provides improved sensitivity in high biomass regions while minimizing soil and atmosphere influences.

This is the result for the Hunua Ranges and calculations for other sites are still ongoing.

kshama Kshama Awasthi is an MSc student supervised by Cate Macinnis-Ng and Jay Gao


Microchipping: A force for good

Posted by Kathy Crewther @kat_crewz

Earlier this week, a Taranaki Regional Council hearings committee recommended that feral cats be defined as cats which are “unowned, unsocialised, and have no relationship with or dependence on humans” (Taranaki Regional Council, 2017). This will please some cat lovers since submissions had been made to define a feral cat as “any cat without a microchip, collar, or harness” with some owners fearing that this could equate to a ‘licence to kill’ their wandering, microchip-free pet moggie. But it does raise the question: Why haven’t you microchipped your cat?

According to the New Zealand Companion Animal Council, 44% of NZ households have a pet cat compared to 28% with dogs, making cats the most popular pet in the country. However, while 71% of dog owners had microchipped their pet, only 31% of cat owners had done so (New Zealand Companion Animal Council Inc., 2016).

Every day, websites like and have listings of anxious owners desperate to find their missing cats and – yes – some of them are microchipped. However, the chances of being reunited with your furry family member are much higher if people know how to find you. This means not only microchipping your cat, but also making sure you keep your contact details up to date after you register the microchip.

I have had two recent experiences which illustrate the value of the microchip. Earlier in the year, one of my colleagues took in a distressed cat that looked like he had been wandering for some time. When she took him to the vet to check for a microchip, she discovered that the cat had been missing for 5 months and had somehow found his way from Botany to Takapuna! Thanks to an up-to-date microchip registration, kitty was reunited with a very happy and grateful owner.


Distance is no object to cats who will sometimes secretly (or accidentally) hitch a lift

When a cat I had never seen before turned up repeatedly on my doorstep, the lack of a microchip did not mean a death sentence for this fluffy wanderer, but it did mean I was unable to reunite her with her owners, despite placing listings on various websites. Instead, Dorey (as she is now known) was able to be re-homed with a very caring family and no longer shows any desire to wander.


In the absence of a microchip, Dorey was unable to be reunited with her owners, but fortunately a new family was found for her

Moral of the story: microchipping is there to help protect your beloved pets and to ensure that, in the event they go missing, you are reunited with them as quickly as possible. And, at around $45-80, microchipping is one of the most affordable aspects of pet ownership. So, please, if you haven’t already done it – microchip your cat.


twitter picKathy Crewther is a PhD candidate in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland. She is investigating the management of domestic cats and their impact on urban wildlife.




Decision Report of Council in respect of submissions to the Proposed Regional Pest Management Plan and Taranaki Regional Council Biosecurity Strategy, Document number: 1952447. (October 31, 2017). Retrieved November 2, 2017, from

New Zealand Companion Animal Council Inc. (2016). Companion Animals in New Zealand 2016. Auckland, New Zealand.



Breaking the mowing addiction – let’s have some meadows.

Posted by Bruce Burns @BruceTracks

Why do we mow so much? In the city, our landscape norm is buildings set in areas of close cropped grass, and we are taught from an early age that regularly mowing lawns is the height of good husbandry (or wifebandry). But does it need to be so?

The mown lawn could rightly be viewed as an emblem of western civilization, and modern urban form owes much to the existence of lawnmowers. Regular mowing maintains open space around our buildings and roads and prevents ecological succession of those areas to weeds or forest. But there is a lot of lawn to mow – urban grasslands take up around 15 – 20% of Auckland (and other western cities) land area. There is also a cultural norm that seems to equate closely-mown lawns to tidiness, order, and care for urban human habitat. Mowing has become a regular activity for us, and we even instil a mowing ethos in our children with toy mowers.


Meadows in low-mow situations in Auckland provide multiple environmental and biodiversity benefits

But all that mowing comes at a cost, both real and opportunity. Publically and privately we spend millions of dollars and hours each year on mowing. Environmentally, mowing burns fuel and thereby contributes emissions to the air and pollutants to water. The opportunity costs can be estimated by considering what happens if we mow less and let lawns turn into meadows. Urban grasslands provide areas for stormwater infiltration and water retention – these ecosystem services are increased when grassland swards are deeper. As well, urban biodiversity would be enhanced. Meadow vegetation supports a greater diversity and abundance of plants, insects (including pollinators) and many other life forms. As well, wildflower-rich meadows would have psychological benefits for many urban dwellers, and they are stunningly romantic.

So, let’s experiment with setting aside areas within our cities and allow them to develop into meadows. I’m not talking about everywhere and not suggesting they won’t need some management. But I think we have a lot to gain by leaving the mower in the shed and valuing the nature that happens as a result.

bruceDr Bruce Burns is a Senior Lecturer in Plant Ecology in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland. He is a plant community ecologist specialising in the biodiversity and restoration of natural, managed, and urban ecosystems.

Amazon Biodiversity Monitoring in Ducke Reserve

Posted by James Russell @IsldJames

Monitoring of biodiversity is a challenge, but visiting Ducke reserve in the Amazon I am able to see one of the gold standards for long-term biodiversity research. Satellite images reveal an oddly square 10 x 10 km forest block just to the north-east of Manaus. Here lies the Ducke scientific reserve owned by the National Institute of Amazon Research (INPA). My Brazilian colleague Carlos Abrahão undertook his early postgraduate research here and is keen to show me the reserve.


Our hike in to the central camp of the reserve is exhausting. Lying on the equator in the humid forest one only has to walk a few minutes before being drenched in sweat. As we navigate the linear track system turning at right angles appropriately, an afternoon thunderstorm threatens in the distance. As we nimbly traverse the last tree fall bridge of a stream we come upon the forest camp, and only minutes later the storm hits.


After making camp, stringing our hammocks up, darkness falls and the storm abates. Carlos takes this opportunity to eagerly search for the snakes he undertook his research upon. The best he can find is a tree snake, but for a New Zealander coming from a land without snakes, this is the perfect entry level snake for someone like me to let crawl upon themselves. Still, both I and the snake are happy when it is returned to the tree.


The perfectly square grid system the design of the RAPELD system imagined by INPA researcher Bill Magnusson. By dividing the scientific reserve in to consecutively larger squares, questions of importance to biodiversity managers can be appropriately matched to scale, whether it be the taxonomy of biodiversity in a tiny square, to forest dynamics across the entire reserve. Before entering the reserve Bill was generous enough to give me a copy of his book Biodiversity and Integrated Environmental Monitoring. It is a must-read for those interested in long-term biodiversity monitoring, especially as one lies in their hammock in the centre of the very reserve it focuses upon, listening to the cacophony of amphibians.

Originally posted on National Geographic Voices

Clever communication of ideas to generate interest in your research

As students and researchers working on long-term projects, we often have to wrangle with complex datasets. Producing thoughtful conclusions from such data is something we have been trained to do for many years. Likewise, our keen eyes have been trained to interpret conclusions when they are published within the scientific literature. But, the day will come when it is time to report information to audiences outside of the scientific community. The same jargon and quantitative results used to increase comprehension within scientific literature will likely decrease comprehension when reported to a general audience!

So, what is a solution to this problem??? My answer is to use….

snazzy visuals

Well… maybe not quite as snazzy as WordArt… but the inclusion of purposeful visuals will help audiences understand your message and also keep them engaged. Furthermore, a nice visual can always be added to a thesis or powerpoint presentation to help communicate your ideas effectively.

To bring this idea home, take a look at the images below:


memePresenting your relational database to the general public will leave you looking like the over-caffeinated, sleep-deprived PhD archetype you are trying to separate yourself from (image:

The first image is of my current relational database for invasive mammalian pests throughout New Zealand’s offshore islands. The second image is of how I’ll be perceived if I try to explain it to anyone else. Although informative, the database’s complexity makes it difficult for others to understand. The time required to explain its “in’s and out’s” will ultimately take away from the message I am trying to get across. As a solution to this issue, I decided to amend my database to ArcMap as a way of making it visual (see the picture below).

arcmap pic
An ArcMap image of New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf. The different coloured polygons and data-points represent different features of the implemented database. I think we can all agree that this is much easier to explain than the other image!

Not only is it more interesting to look at, but the visual representation of my data clearly and concisely demonstrates what is going on (it’d help if I put a legend on the figure, though. Semantics.). Doing so has helped me spatially understand my dataset, too. instead of looking at lines of code, the visual form has provided context with which assist in the identification of geographic patterns.

zachpicZach Carter is a PhD student in the University of Auckland School of Biological Sciences. He is developing eradication prioritisation models to assist in the removal of invasive mammals from New Zealand. He is supervised by James Russell and George Perry.

Taking over at Huapai (and a very wet autumn)

Posted by Ben Cranston

Forest greetings

Out with the old and in with the new: a phrase which does not apply to long-term vegetation plots. Earlier in the year, I began taking the reins at one of the University of Auckland’s scientific reserves, Huapai, in the northern Waitakeres. Apart from my primary task at the site of implementing a droughting experiment on kauri (Agathis australis), I am also responsible for overseeing the continuity of long-term monitoring operations for projects past. On rare days when there is a spare moment to soak in the surroundings, I am still awestruck by the intricacy of Aotearoa ngahere urutapu (New Zealand’s virgin forest)…


… The Tasman Tempest

Thanks to data provided by NIWA, I have at last found validation for making such claims as “the rain never stops on field days” and “mud is definitely soupier today than last time. Glad I insisted on the Wellies!” because many parts of Te Ika-a-Māui –Tāmaki Makaurau included- experienced their wettest autumns on record. Indeed, the winter up north was not as wet, but the trails never quite recovered from the “Tasman tempest” of early March making the, er, march up to the site always interesting.

NIWA Mar 2017


My outlook for spring is hopeful. The sky is already bluer, the ponga seem livelier, and though the mozzies are becoming a nuisance again, they are a welcome trade-off for fair weather. Soon the apparatus for the drought shelters will be fully installed along with the tree sensors and, as they say, we’ll be off the races on a first-for-NZ drought experiment. By summertime, the lab group will be faced with the new challenge of recruiting volunteers for tree-climbing days to take canopy-level measurements.

Post Release Evaluation – Not just an Expensive Luxury!

Posted by Hester Williams @HesterW123


Classical biological control, i.e. the introduction and release of non-native insects, mites, or pathogens to give permanent control, is the predominant method in invasive plant biocontrol. A successful biological control programme eventually reduces, or in some cases removes, the need other methods of control for an invasive species that is growing prolifically in the absence of its natural enemies. The benefit-to-cost ratio of successful control can be very high, especially when earlier successes in one country form the basis for repeating the introductions elsewhere.

New Zealand has a long history in biological control of invasive plants and is one of five countries that are very active in this field. In a recent analysis on the benefits of biocontrol in New Zealand it was found that 30 % of releases (of those that could be assessed because of sufficient passage of time) resulted in significant beneficial effects. Cases with negligible benefit (36%) included agents that failed to establish, and cases with minimal benefit (33%) included some cases where predation reduced the realized benefit of established agents.


Post-Release Evaluation

An important component of all biocontrol projects is Post-Release Evaluation, the process of assessing how successful the projects have been and to understand why they succeed, fail or achieve intermediate results, and to determine and evaluate any non-target effects. Such information would not only provide better justification for biocontrol funding, but would also inform the agent selection process for subsequent projects, assist in the improvement of pre-release screening, help to increase establishment success and provide gateways to integrating biocontrol with other management practices.

Identifying biocontrol successes

Remarkable successes have been achieved through biocontrol projects, including the

St johns wort and beetle

Chrysolina sp., one of the biocontrol agents that is contributing to the successful control of St John’s wort in NZ.

control of St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) which used to be one of the worst four weeds in New Zealand. This plant displaced pasture in the dry high country and poisoned stock. Two beetles that defoliate the plant and a midge that stunts growth by deforming the plant were released as part of the biocontrol programme. The lesser St John’s wort beetle was the first to be released in 1943, while the greater St John’s wort beetle and the gall midge were released about 20 years later. All three agents established and today the plant has declined to the point where it is no longer considered a problem. A recent economic analysis has estimated that the Net Present Value of introducing the beetles is between $140 and $1490 million over 70 years, a benefit to cost ratio of 10:1 and 100:1 respectively. A remarkable return on investment!


Identifying biocontrol failures

Biocontrol programmes of course do not always result in successes, and failures are inevitable. Failures include inability of released agent populations to establish, or underperformance of agents. For example, here in New Zealand, the heather beetle (Lochmaea suturalis), has underperformed as a biocontrol agent when compared with the damage it does to native heather in Europe. Post-release evaluation studies have indicated that the smaller body size of beetles in NZ, probably mostly due to a severe founder effect, resulted in higher winter mortalities and therefore underperformance of the beetle in NZ. In 2014, an effort to genetically rescue the NZ population was undertaken; more beetles were collected from Scotland and mated with New Zealand beetles. These new genetic lines of beetles were released in November 2014 and currently post-release evaluation studies are underway to confirm establishment. Future studies will compare the performance of the new and original populations. This project represents a novel approach to explore the possibility of enhancing the performance of already established biocontrol agents so that they can better adapt to the local conditions and more effectively control the target weed.

Identifying Non-target effects of biocontrol

  • Direct risk to non-target plant species (usually closely related species).
Rhynocyllis larvae

Rhynocyllis  conicus, a biocontrol agent for musk thistle in the USA, also utilizing native thistle species.

The case of the weevil Rhinocyllus conicus is particularly well known. First introduced from France to North America in 1968 to control invasive musk thistle (Carduus nutans), then widely distributed in the United States, this seed predator utilizes at least 22 native species of Cirsium in North America, including some species of conservation concern that have been shown to be seed-limited. Additional studies have found that the observed level of seed predation by the weevil to not be sufficient to limit seedling recruitment.

  • Indirect non-target effects, for example, via interactions in food webs.

A highly host plant–specific weed biocontrol agent, the tephritid fly, Mesoclanis polana, introduced into Australia to control bitou bush, is associated with declines of local insect communities. As the agent shares natural enemies (predators and parasitoids) with seed herbivore species from native plants, a study implicated locally significant competition causing negative effects on indigenous seed feeding insects.

  • Conflicts of interest.
South western willow flycatcher

The endangered south-western willow flycatcher, using an invasive species (Tamarix sp.) for nesting sites in the USA.

The proposed biological control programme for saltcedars (Tamarix spp.) in North America is associated with concern about the wellbeing of an endangered species—the south-western willow flycatcher. Originally this bird species nested in indigenous riparian vegetation. Many western riparian areas are now dominated by introduced invasive saltcedars, which the south-western willow flycatchers are now using for nesting.




Post Release Evaluation – necessary but expensive

Post release evaluation is expensive, and requires long-term funding commitments and community support. Modern biocontrol practices recognize the need for post-release evaluation of biocontrol programmes, but in the past it has been seen as ‘an expensive luxury’! This is because evaluation is often perceived as basic research with no additional benefits to the community and the funding agencies. When a project has clearly been highly successful it is unappealing to channel further resources into a former problem when so many others still require attention. Likewise, if a project appears to have failed there is little incentive to spend precious resources documenting this in more detail.

The cost of undertaking Post Release Evaluation studies has to date proven to be a major obstacle both in New Zealand and worldwide. In 2015, the National Biocontrol Collective (NBC), the major funder of the development and release of new weed biocontrol agents in New Zealand, accepted a National Assessment Protocol developed by Landcare Research to ensure some level of assessment is undertaken in biocontrol projects in New Zealand. The protocol outlines minimum standards plus further options where additional resources are available.

Role of Post-Graduate Research Programmes

This is where Universities and their post-graduate research programmes can and are making major contributions, as evaluation studies are often incorporated into their research programmes. We as post graduate students (low-paid but reasonably intelligent – or just amazing supervisors?) can indulge in detailed population and ecosystem level studies – the ultimate goal of post release evaluation. Student cartoon


My Research

Neolema adult

The focus of my study: Neolema ogloblini, a biocontrol agent for Tradescantia fluminensis


My PHD study focusses on the dynamics of small populations. Many species benefit from the presence of conspecifics but at low population densities the fitness level of individuals in the population decrease. This phenomenon is known as the Allee effect. The Allee effect can drive very small populations to extinction and can play a major role in the establishment and spread of biocontrol agent populations.

I am studying how population size, dispersal and host patch connectivity interact with the Allee effect and how this influences the establishment and persistence of the leaf feeding beetle, Neolema ogloblini, a biocontrol agent for Tradescantia fluminensis. As mentioned in the introduction paragraph, 36 % of the biocontrol programmes in NZ has negligible benefit, in many cases because of establishment failure. My studies will help us to understand why some releases of biocontrol agents result in successful establishment and why others fail to do so.



Hester WilliamsHester Williams is a PhD candidate in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland and is stationed with the Landcare Research Biocontrol team in Lincoln, Canterbury. She is interested in invasion processes of both insect and plant species. Hester is supervised by Darren Ward (Landcare Research/University of Auckland) and Eckehard Brockerhoff (Scion), with Mandy Barron (Landcare Research) as advisor. Her studies are supported by a joint Ministry for Primary Industries – University of Auckland scholarship. The project is an integral part of an MBIE program “A Toolkit for the Urban Battlefield” led by Scion.



The good old days of splattered bugs on windscreens

Posted by: Jessica Devitt @Colette_Keeha

Recently, a colleague of mine asked: “Have you noticed that there are less insects squashed on your car windscreen these days?” And I thought about it, and yes, there are definitely less bugs on my windscreen after a long drive now, as compared to when I was younger.

As a child, my family used to regularly drive across the North Island of New Zealand, from Wellington to Auckland and back, and I do distinctly remember there being numerous splattered insect remains on the car windscreen; and I remember mum or dad cleaning the insects off at the gas station, with the windscreen steadily becoming re-splattered within another hour or so of driving.


The reason my colleague brought up this issue was due to an article published in The Telegraph, which discusses the aptly named ‘windscreen phenomenon’.  The Telegraph article follows on from an earlier article published in Science News, and Radio New Zealand also covered the story here.  The jury is still out as to whether this is a sign of actual insect decline, or perhaps it is a result of other factors, such as the more streamlined modern car.

The windscreen (or windshield) phenomenon was coined by entomologists to define the relatively recent apparent lack of insects inadvertently colliding with car windscreens during transit.  This is purely observational, but it does correlate with recorded decreases in pollinators, and other more charismatic insect species albeit still pollinators, such as butterflies.

This got me thinking about the insects that I saw regularly, and captured, as a kid – have I seen that particular species recently?  When was the last time I saw it?  And does that necessarily mean they are declining just because I haven’t seen them?  This exercise for me is purely speculative and observational, however, I thought it would be interesting to research a couple of the insects that I haven’t seen much of, and then see if there is any information on how they are faring these days. Maybe they have experienced some population decline or range restriction…or perhaps I just need to look a little harder!

1). Native praying mantis (Orthodera novaezealandiae)


 Female New Zealand Mantis (Orthodera novaezealandiae) from side. (McQuillan, 2009.)


Left: Native female New Zealand Mantis (Lee, 2017). Right: Female South African Mantis (Lee, 2017)

Now this one I know is recorded as declining (Buckley et al., 2012).  I haven’t seen one of these guys for ages, but I do remember seeing them fairly consistently circa late 80’s early 90’s in suburban Auckland.  It is thought that the decline of the native mantis is due to competition with the introduced South African mantis (Miomantis caffra).  Further, the native male mantis has been found to be attracted to the South African female mantis, for which he tries to mate with and is invariably eaten.

Conclusion: Declining


2) Striped flower fly (Orthoprosopa bilineata)


Orthoprosopa bilineata (Bundle, 2015)


Coming across one of these was a rare find, maybe I saw one a handful of times over a year but at this point I have not come across one for a very long time!  I see on Nature Watch they are still being sighted in the Auckland area, but there is not much information about them online. Something I did learn was that this species is only found in New Zealand.

Conclusion: Look harder?


3) Emperor gum moth (Opodiphthera eucalypti)



Top: Emperor Gum Moth, Opodiphthera eucalypti, female; Swifts Creek, Victoria (fir0002 /, 2007).
Bottom: The caterpillar of the emperor gum moth in its last stage before pupation (Fir0002, 2005).

This is not a native species to New Zealand but a favourite of mine as a kid.  It is originally from Australia and its most common host plants are within the eucalypt family, leading to the moth being considered a pest for commercial eucalypt growers.  I do actively look for them when I come across any eucalyptus trees but have not seen one for a few decades now.  However, they are still considered common.

Conclusion: Look harder

This exercise was probably more of an excuse for me to reminisce about carefree bug-catching days, whilst I work like crazy to grow as many beetles as possible for future experiments.  However, I do think it is important that we take the time to notice the natural environment around us – what are we seeing lot of?  What have we not seen for a long time?  Are we noticing the emergence of certain species of flora or fauna at different times of the year than what we would normally expect?  These sorts of observations can lead to future projects that may highlight population level changes, changes in species distribution, changes in behaviours and/or growth patterns, and at the very least provide more information on often overlooked less charismatic data deficient individuals.

jessJessica Devitt is a PhD student at the Centre for Biodiversity & Biosecurity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland and Plant and Food Research. She is researching the respiratory responses of the golden-haired bark beetle to advance fumigation techniques. She is supervised by Jacqueline Beggs from the University of Auckland, Adriana Najar-Rodriguez and Matthew Hall from Plant and Food Research.



Buckley, T. R., Palma, R. L., Johns, P. M., Gleeson, D. M., Heath, A. C. G., Hitchmough, R. A., & Stringer, I. A. N. (2012). The conservation status of small or less well known groups of New Zealand terrestrial invertebrates. New Zealand Entomologist, 35(2), 137-143.

Bundle, P. (2015).  Orthoprosopa bilineata. Retrieved from

fir0002 / (2007). Emperor Gum Moth, Opodiphthera eucalypti, female; Swifts Creek, Victoria. Retrieved from

fir0002. (2005). The caterpillar of the emperor gum moth in its last stage before pupation.  Retrieved from

Lee, S. (2017).  Praying mantis identification.  Retrieved from

McQuillan, B. (2009). Female New Zealand Mantis (Orthodera novaezealandiae) from side.  Retrieved from



Hedgehogs: Prickly Pests on the Rampage

Posted by Cathy Nottingham @cathy28495357 

Hedgehogs are an underrated mammalian pest in New Zealand – there are even groups of people who ‘rescue’ them.  Hedgehogs have been shown to have an impact on native ground-nesting bird, lizard and weta populations, but little research has been carried out on them in urban environments. In particular, we don’t know what their impact might be in urban forest patches (fragments).  That’s where I come in, for my Masters research project, I’ll be investigating the impact of hedgehogs in urban forest fragments.  I’ll look at what hedgehogs are feeding on in this environment through gut content analysis.  I’ll also be working on understanding the relationship between the number of hedgehogs in a forest fragment and the severity of the impact. This is called a damage function. This will enable managers and community groups to initiate hedgehog control once their abundance surpasses a critical impact threshold.


Hedgehog. Photo credit: Gaudete / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-2.5

Having recently received permission from the council to start working in the reserves, I’ll will be soon heading out at night to find hedgehogs.  This will involve using thermal imaging cameras, volunteers and some oven mitts!


Thermal image of a bird using Seek Thermal Camera

As part of creating a damage function, I’ll be using crickets (as a proxy for weta) and quail eggs to measure survival or death by hedgehog. Camera traps will be used to monitor predation by hedgehogs, and the survival rates of the experimental crickets and eggs. I’ll be using chew cards to monitor the relative abundance of hedgehogs and rats in the reserves. With councils and community groups increasingly controlling rodents in bush reserves to help native birds, might this let the hedgehogs run rampant?  So remember, next time you see one of these prickly pests, ambling along at night, there is a killer in your midst, but I’m on the case, and I’m planning on finding exactly what they are up to in our urban bush patches.


Trialling predation experiments: using crickets and camera traps to monitor hedgehog predation


cathyCathy is a MSc student in the Centre for Biodiversity & Biosecurity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland. She is investigating the impact of hedgehogs in urban forest fragmentsShe is supervised by Margaret Stanley and Al Glen.

How to get the most out of a writing retreat

Posted by Cate Macinnis-Ng @LoraxCate

This week a group of us from the Centre for Biodiversity and Biosecurity had the pleasure of attending a writing retreat at the fabulous Aio Wira Retreat Centre in the Waitakere Ranges. A writing retreat is a great way to get away from the office and specifically concentrate on writing, enhanced by the pressure of others madly writing around you. Here are a few things you can do to boost productivity before, during and after a writing retreat.


A beautiful spot for some writing

  • Plan, plan, plan

Work out what project you want to work on and plan your time so you can hit the ground running when you arrive. In our line of work, a writing retreat might include data analysis, reading papers, designing experiments, preparing figures and of course, writing about it all. It can be a good idea to plan a few different tasks so if you get stuck on one, you can still make goood use of your time by getting on with another. That said, prioritising the most important tasks is still important. Perhaps discussing your plans with a colleague or supervisor will keep you accountable.

  • Gather everything you need

If a writing retreat is about progressing your work, it’s important you have everything you need to do that. Before arriving, make sure your data are in the right format, you have the references you need and you have your work plan. Bring your computer and charger or pen and paper if that works better for you. Perhaps gathering thoughts is the most important thing to do in preparation for a productive time.


Funky footwear is essential

  •   Comfortable gear

On a winter retreat, being warm and comfy is a must so wear your warmest, most comfortable clothes.



  • Don’t forget down-time

Having time away from the computer is just as important as time at the keyboard. There are some wonderful walks in the Waitakere Ranges so walking shoes are a must out here. It’s pretty muddy at this time of year so cleaning shoes and sticking to tracks is essential to avoid spreading kauri dieback but getting out in the bush or on the beach is a great way to prepare for the day or take a break from it all.


Good food helps power brains

  • A writing retreat doesn’t have to be away from the office

Continuing momentum is easy with virtual writing retreats. Try Shut up and Write Tuesdays for an online community and some great writing tips.


Close to the fire is always a popular spot on a winter retreat


Other useful resources

Stephen Heard’s The Scientist’s Guide to Writing is a great read for postgraduate students and early career researchers across many fields. It is a comprehensive guide to the structure, content and style of scientific writing. My only criticism is that there was very little said about writing abstracts.

Duke Graduate School Scientific Writing Resource has writing lessons and exercises to improve writing.

For the academics of writing, the University of Auckland’s writing website has a blog, projects and events.

Happy writing!

Dr Cate Macinnis-Ng is a Senior Lecturer and Rutherford Discovery Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland.  She is a plant ecophysiologist and ecohydrologist working on plant-climate interactions.