2017 highlights for Ecology Ngātahi

Post by Anna Frances Probert @AFProbert

It’s almost the end of the year, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the Ecology Ngātahi research group for 2017. However, please note that the following post merely highlights some of the achievements of Ecology Ngātahi – there is simply not enough space or time to cover everything!


Dr Garvey and Dr Galbraith at graduation earlier this year

We said haere mai to six new students this year: Kshama Awasthi (MSc), Andre Bellve (MSc), Zach Carter (PhD), Ben Cranston (PhD), Kathy Crewther (PhD) and Cathy Nottingham (MSc) who added to our diverse array of research interests, involving everything from remote sensing to impacts of hedgehogs! On the flip side, we had five students graduate: the wonderful Patrick Garvey and Josie Galbraith were awarded their PhDs earlier this year and Sam Heggie-Gracie, Sam Lincoln and Tom Saunders were awarded their Masters degrees. Congratulations!


More recently, we congratulated a number of our academic team who were promoted to Associate Professor. Congratulations to the new Assoc. Prof. Bruce Burns, Assoc. Prof. Margaret Stanley and Assoc. Prof. James Russell. Further congratulations must also be extended to the newly appointed Professor Jacqueline Beggs. I think a lab party is in order!

Earlier this year, we were very fortunate to have two visiting PhD students from Brazil for several months thanks to their collaboration with James Russell. Vinícius Peron de Oliveira Gasparotto and Carlos Robberto Abrahão, conduct their field research at Fernando de Noronha, an archipelago 545km of the coast of Brazil in the Atlantic. Viní’s work focuses on the endemic Noronha skink (Trachylepis atlantica), with his research investigating the biology of this poorly studied species, as well as assessing the potential risk posed to the skink population from invasive species. Carlos, on the other hand, researches the biology and impacts of a large, ferocious, invasive lizard occurring on the islands, the Tegu (Tupinambis merianae). We wish Viní and Carlos all the best in finishing their PhDs and hope they come visit again (or even better, we go and visit them).

Vini and Carlos.jpg

Carlos and Viní having some car issues, but remaining in good spirits as they travel NZ



Carolina and Margaret in Sevilla (with Lucy and Jamie)

Travelling was a theme of the year, with many members of our groups going to far-flung places as a result of conferences and collaborations. James Russell had the fortune of visiting Brazil to work on island invasives, taking the opportunity to capture what I’m awarding the “Cutest critter cuddle” for his picture with a tapir. Several members of our group, including Carolina, Margaret, Jamie and Jacqueline, spent time sipping sangria (or at least I hope they did) in Sevilla, due to their international collaborations. Carolina took advantage of the European visit to attend and present a poster at the Ecological Networks Symposium in Uppsala, Sweden. Julia Schmack and James attended the Islands Invasive Conference in Dundee, Scotland and Julia Kaplick attended the 10th International Sap Flow workshop in California in May. Later in the year Ecotas lured Bruce, Cate Jamie and Ben to the Hunter Valley in NSW, Australia, where Cate was elected President of the New Zealand Ecological Society.

James tapir

James Russell wins the annual “Cutest critter cuddle” award 2017 for his picture with this tapir

Some noteworthy research highlights from students include Josie publishing two new papers on her urban bird research, Jamie publishing on functional redundancy across agricultural intensification gradients and Lloyd Stringer with his paper on the


Jamie enjoying a well deserved beer immediately post-thesis hand in

management and eradication options for the Queensland fruit fly. A special mention of congratulations Alice, who handed in and successfully defended her thesis this year, and to Jamie, who handed in his PhD in September, and is due to defend in January 2018.


Several students including the illuminating Ellery, Carolina and myself wrapped up field work for our PhDs and are now to be contained to the lab (at least in my case) or office for the foreseeable future. On the opposite side of the PhD, Ben established his kauri drought experiment Huapai and we look forward to hearing about these forest giants deal with the stress of water shortage.

And on one final note, our group had a really fantastic year for science communication. School visits, guest writing spots, radio interviews, policy opinion panels – there was a lot going on!

We wish everyone a jolly good festive season, and happy New Year. Don’t forget to spread the word and Respect the Rahui!


Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from us!


MeblogAnna Probert is a PhD student in the Centre for Biodiversity & Biosecurity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland. She is using ants as a model to assess the risk posed by exotic invertebrates to native ecosystemsShe is supervised by Margaret StanleyJacqueline Beggs, and Darren Ward.



Rāhui to protect kauri in the Waitākere Ranges

Posted by Julia Kaplick @julekap

New Zealand kauri is one of the country’s most iconic species and of great natural and cultural importance, but this forest giant is under threat by a deadly pathogen. Kauri dieback is caused by the seemingly invisible organism Phytophthora agathidicida. The first symptoms are wilting leaves and lesions at the base of trees. Underground the fine feeding roots as well as the anchoring tap roots are rotting. Over time the infection kills the trees leaving only ghostly wooden skeletons standing.


Dead kauri tree at Waipoua forest

A recent report published by Auckland Council found that a fifth of kauri in the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park show symptoms of dieback and the picture looks especially grim along the many walking tracks. The spread of the deadly pathogen more than doubled in the last five years showing that whatever measures were taken in the past had unfortunately little effect.

Phythosanitary stations have been in place since 2008. They mostly consist of Trigene or Sterigene solution filled spray bottles and brushes to clean soil from footwear. The disinfectant kills the active zoospores of Phytopthora agathadicida, but not the dormant spores which is why it is so important to remove all soil from shoes. The Council report does however show, that the stations are not effective enough, mainly due to people ignoring them or not using them properly.


As people are the main reason why the disease spreads so quickly through the forest local iwi Te Kawerau a Maki placed a rāhui over the Waitakere Ranges. Their hope is to stop any further spread and to give the forest time to heal and recover. Auckland Council on the other hand decided to not officially close regional park. To some this might be surprising, but track closures in the past have shown, that many people just ignore them. The regional park is simply too big to enforce a complete closure. This way the cleaning station will be maintained for people deciding to go for a walk despite the rāhui. The Council does support the rāhui and several individual tracks throughout the Waitakere Ranges are closed due to dieback.

Personally, I will respect the rāhui and stay away from kauri in the Waitākere ranges and I hope many will do the same. It is for now the only way to protect kauri and preserve this iconic tree for future generations.

photo_juliaJulia Kaplick is a PhD student in the Centre of Biodiversity and Biosecurity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland. She is researching the response of native trees to seasonal variation in climatic conditions using measurements of sap flow, water relations and carbon allocation. Julia is supervised by Cate Macinnis-Ng (University of Auckland) and Mike Clearwater (Waikato University). Julia is supported by funding from the Marsden Fund.