Nocturnal water loss and why it matters for kauri

Posted by Tynan Burkhardt @TynanBurkhardt

Nocturnal transpiration is often ignored when studying the water relations of plants, with the assumption that stomata (small pores on the bottom of leaves) close at night, leading to negligible water loss. Although transpiration is far lesser at night than during the day, it can contribute a considerable component of daily water loss. For kauri, I have found nocturnal water loss to make up around 15 % of yearly canopy transpiration. However, for other species, nocturnal transpiration can contribute up to 30 % of daily water loss!

For many plants, night-time is a period of replenishment, where the stem water storage is refilled, after being depleted during the day. However, the importance of night time in the refilling process differs between species. In South American rain forests, where water is readily available year-round, water storage is small and very little refilling occurs at night, with most occurring in the evening. In comparison, kauri have extensive water stores, which are held within their iconic large stems and branches. Refilling of these stems and branches extends almost all the way to sunrise (Figure 1), demonstrating the importance of the nocturnal replenishment period for kauri.


Figure 1 – Daily pattern of withdrawal and refilling for kauri water storage, showing diurnal withdrawal followed by evening and night-time refilling.

Kauri rely heavily on night-time refilling in their water use strategy, with water storage buffering trees from the high evaporative demand and temperatures of summer. Night-time water loss limits a plant’s ability to refill water stores and increases in drought summers. For example, most nights of the 2012/13 drought summer had a considerable amount of transpiration, compared to last summer (2017/18), where most nights had very little transpiration (Figure 2). Worryingly, drought is expected to increase in frequency and severity for many regions where kauri is present.


Figure 2 – Frequency of nights at different levels of nocturnal transpiration (En) for kauri canopies in a ‘normal’ summer (2017/18) and a drought summer (2012/13).

But what does this mean for kauri if drought does become a common summer condition? Clearly, they will be less able to refill their water stores, perhaps leading to a water deficit as the drought progresses. However, water storage is not the only defense kauri have against drying soils. They have also been observed to drop leaves in drier summers and close their stomata when under even mild water stress. Therefore, the reduced ability to refill water storage does not necessarily mean there will be large scale kauri die offs when drought does occur, but it is one of the pathways in which kauri stands may become more water stressed.

IMG_7437Tynan is a Masters student at the University of Auckland’s Ecology Ngatahi lab group. He is studying Nocturnal Transpiration in kauri trees and is supervised by Cate Macinnis-Ng.


No “global” trend: utilising taxonomic collections for assessing the global pollination crisis

Posted by Darren Ward @nzhymenoptera

There is increasing concern about the decline of pollinators worldwide. However, despite reports that pollinator declines are widespread, data are scarce and often geographically and taxonomically biased. These biases limit conclusions about any potential pollinator crisis.

Natural history museums have the potential to transform the field of global change biology. However, museum specimens are underused and could be better utilised to reveal patterns that are not observable from other data sources. Specimens historically collected and preserved in museums provide information on where, and when, species were collected, but also contain other ecological information such as species interactions and morphological traits.

In a recent paper we provide a global synthesis of how researchers have used historical data to identify long-term changes in pollination services. We show that scientific information on the status and trends of most pollinators is poor, if not absent. For example, although a wide variety of countries have recent records of pollinators, they lack historical data. Thus, greater emphasis should be placed on the digitisation of specimens already held in natural history museums.

Furthermore, changes in pollinator communities are context specific, and ‘global trends’ need to be assessed with caution, especially when most of the globe is not assessed!

In Spain, a hot-spot for bee diversity, data analyses showed there were a reduced number of bee species, however, this trend was highly site-specific. Declines in species were clustered around certain types of bees, such as the ground-nesting bees (especially Andrenidae), suggesting a pattern of winners and losers, where some groups of bees are more sensitive to disturbance than other groups.

In New Zealand there are relatively few native bee species, however, they are well studied, and therefore museum records can be used to identify trends in pollinator communities. In contrast to Spain, we found that 11 out of 27 bee species increased in relative occurrence over time, 13 species were stable, and only three bee species declined in relative occurrence.

A greater number of long-term datasets from different countries are needed in order to provide a robust and truly global assessment of trends in pollinator communities. Natural history museums play a central role in assessing the extent of the global pollination crisis, because they are the source which can serve as a baseline.


Bartomeus I, Stavert JR, Ward D, Aguado, O. 2019. Historic collections as a tool for assessing the global pollination crisis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 374, issue 1763.

From a themed issue, ‘Biological collections for understanding biodiversity in the Anthropocene’.


New Zealand bee collection records were gathered from multiple sources, including university, research institute, museum and private collections. Collection records from the New Zealand Arthropod Collection (NZAC) and are freely available online (

Darren Ward is an entomologist, Head Curator at the New Zealand Arthropod Collection at Landcare Research, and a senior lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland.

What drives social wasp abundances on NZ’s offshore islands?

Watch my first stop motion video on the drivers of social wasp abundances on New Zealand’s offshore islands below:


Julia Schmack is a PhD student at the Centre for Biodiversity & Biosecurity, School of Biological Scinyences, University of Auckland. She is researching the ecology and control of social wasps, supervised by Jacqueline Beggs, Darren Ward and Mandy Barron (Landcare Research). Her PhD is funded by the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge. @julia_schmack

The point of collapse

Posted by Ellen Hume

Imagine a clear winding stream flowing from the hills above into a small yet pristine lake. Birdlife is abundant, and the water is teeming with fish including freshwater eels known as native tuna, while macrophytes, aquatic plants, provide habitat and food to the aquatic species. Over time, as people move into the area, the surrounding lush native forest makes way for paddocks of farmland. The local whānau use the waterways for gathering mahinga kai to feed their families and enjoy being connected to the beauty of nature. Eventually the landscape is one of commercial productivity, with a mosaic of cropping and grassland feeding livestock and only small pockets of fenced forest remaining. It is harder to catch fish and tuna but children still splash around in the water in warmer months. Agriculture in the area continues to intensify with further use of fertiliser and irrigation water and more animals on the land. Then one summer the stream dries down to a trickle. The lake is murky and native fish are far and few between. Aquatic plants along the once clear stream and lake beds have been replaced by masses of slimy green growth. No-one goes near the water anymore. The connection with the land, the balance, the kaitiakitanga have been lost.

So what has happened here?

Well, the situation can be explained by the concept of tipping points. A tipping point is the point at which a system changes from one state to another, sometimes quite unexpectedly. In this case, the previously healthy pristine waterway system has reached a tipping point, collapsing into a degraded unhealthy state. This is due to the gradual accumulation of small changes to the local landscape and greater human inputs increasing the nutrient levels in the water to a critical point where a significant change to the whole aquatic community occurs. This process is called eutrophication and can be very difficult to reverse due to the system being stable and resistant to change. In today’s world of change, if we could identify which systems are likely to experience tipping points then we could use management actions and policy to avoid these occurring. Knowledge of how tipping points affect a system is also invaluable when trying to shift a system purposely into another state, for example restoration of the degraded waterway and modified landscape.


Image credit: Troy Baisden

In the case of the waterway system described above, the local community rallied together to take action in claiming back their kaitiakitanga. It is a long journey but through concerted effort and connection to the land they have a strong vision to tip the system back into the healthy, functioning waterway it once was.


Ellen Hume is a PhD student funded by Te Pūnaha Matatini Centre of Research Excellence. Her project is looking at detecting temporal and spatial regime shifts to enable better risk-based decision making, with supervision from Dr Cate Macinnis-Ng and Professor Troy Baisden.


Which tree to plant where? Do we know enough to plant 1 billion trees?

Posted by Cate Ryan, @cate_ryan

Aotearoa was once cloaked in lush temperate rainforests and beech forests. They ensured the land was well looked after by providing ecosystem functions such as habitat, soil protection, carbon storage, fuel, localised shading and cooling effects, and filtration of water.

Today only 43% of Aotearoa is in native vegetation compared to c.80% before human settlement (Norton and Pannell, 2018). Ecosystem functions have degraded, especially water quality and soil protection (erosion) and we must also increase carbon sinks to play our part in tackling climate change.

The current NZ government seeks to significantly increase the number of trees in NZ with the 1 billion trees policy. Species that will be planted include radiata pine, redwood, eucalyptus, Douglas fir, totara and mānuka and these will be planted on private, public and Māori owned land (MPI , 2018). However, which species we plant has a big impact on ecosystem function. Plants trade-off water and carbon during the gas exchange process so that the quicker a tree grows, sinking carbon in the process, the more water it uses, and vice versa. Introduced species like eucalypts grow quickly so are great from a carbon perspective but they use a lot of water. Natives grow more slowly so they don’t accumulate carbon as quickly but they often use less water. We don’t yet have the numbers to properly quantify this in the field so we can’t currently make good decisions on prioritising carbon over water. Moreover, we need to plan ahead for climate change – which is expected to increase dryness and water scarcity.

My PhD research will determine the water use of a range of native compared to plantation exotic tree species in Northland and Canterbury farms, from the leaf to the landscape level – to help inform decisions about what trees to plant where. This is in collaboration with a wider Biological Heritage National Science Challenge programme around ‘Enhancing the ecological function of native biodiversity in agroecosystems’.


Cate Ryan is a PhD student in Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland, supervised by Dr. Cate Macinnis-Ng