Celebrating one year of Ecology Ngātahi

Posted by the Ecology Ngātahi team @AklEcol


We’re turning 1! Image source: freelargeimages.com

Everybody loves a birthday! It’s a chance to reflect on the year that’s been and make plans for the year to come. Hopefully we are all a little bit wiser too!

In the spirit of reflection, we wanted to revisit some of the highlights on the Ecology Ngātahi blog from our first year. Undoubtedly, the stars of the show have been the postgraduate students and their research. The first student post involved Josie Galbraith bringing together urban birds and teenage mutant ninja turtles. Animated characters were a common theme with Ant-Man and Batman also featuring in posts by Anna Probert and Ellery McNaughton.

Another popular theme was fieldwork. Sam Lincoln, Sam Heggie-Grace and Julia Kaplick shared their experiences as field ecologists. Other experiences shared were Jamie Stavert’s piece on his time in Europe and Carolina Lara’s piece on her experiences as an international student in NZ. Also, Anna Probert learnt all about ants and had fun doing it on her ant course. These three posts make interesting reading for anyone planning on spending time overseas. Something else any ecologist can relate to is frustrations with R and Jessica Devitt suggested some valuable resources she has discovered.

Other more quirky posts included Lloyd Stringer on NZ as a source of invasive species and Rebecca Lehrke’s experiences monitoring swan activity near the airport. Jamie Stavert wrote a fabulous post on the joy of creativity and Alice Baranyovits made a call for citizen scientists to get involved with her kereru project.

The most popular post by far was Jacqueline’s piece on kākāpō. It seems everyone loves a good news story! Cate’s tips for scoring a postdoc were widely shared on twitter. Margaret’s blog on the importance of urban ecology was another popular read and Mick explained the strange case of high genetic diversity in NZ stoat population.

So, it’s been a fascinating and wide-ranging year. I don’t think we expected to cover so many different topics when we started out last year. We have exciting plans for 2016. We welcome Darren Ward onto the Ecology Ngātahi team and we have a great bunch of new students and great projects. We’ll be continuing with weekly posts to highlight student research and topical issues in Ecology. We have recently launched our youtube channel so do look out for more clips about our research and don’t miss Josie’s animation on the impacts of feeding birds. Another new addition is our publications in a nutshell page where we will be posting brief summaries of new publications.

Thanks to you, our readers and followers for engaging with our work. We have had hits from over 110 countries with over 6000 unique visitors (hello world!). We appreciate you taking the time to have a look at the blog and share our stories on twitter and facebook.

Tau Hou hari! Happy new year!


Ecology to genomes and back: Using integrative genomics to gain insights into community assembly dynamics

Centre for Biodiversity and Biosecurity seminar – all welcome.CBB logo

Posted by Jacqueline Beggs

Tuesday, 14th April, 12.30pm
Tāmaki Campus, University of Auckland
Building 733-234

Speaker: Dr Manpreet Dhami, Stanford University, USA

Manpreet groupedManpreet Dhami received her Ph.D. in 2012 from the University of Auckland studying the multi-trophic interactions between scale insects, their symbionts and honeydew consumers. She was supervised by Jacqueline Beggs and Mike Taylor. Manpreet discovered and characterized a novel bacterial symbiont associated with endemic New Zealand scale insects (Dhami et al. 2012), and elucidated the cophylogenetic patterns between bacteria and their scale insect hosts (Dhami et al. 2013a).  She also documented the diverse fungal community associated with honeydew (Dhami et al. 2013b) and showed that honeydew from each scale insect species had a distinctive amino acid and carbohydrate signature (Dhami et al. 2011).

Currently she works as a postdoctoral research fellow at Stanford University in Tad Fukami’s lab, where she is developing an ecological genomics approach to assess the mechanisms underlying microbial community assembly.

Talk outline

Next generation sequencing has revolutionised access to genomics to address key ecological questions such as genetic mechanisms of fitness. I present two case studies that integrate genomics and classic ecological approaches.
Case study 1: Sap-feeding scale insects thrive on a nutritionally poor diet of phloem, possibly enabled by the presence of novel obligate symbionts. Such symbionts, however, cannot be cultured in-situ, hindering further study of their function. We sequenced the genome of one symbiont, establishing its nutritional role in the ecological success of this insect.
Case study 2: Floral nectar hosts a complex community of microbes, such as the dominant Floricolous yeast, Metschnikowia reukaufii. We characterised cell and colony morphology, growth rates and sequenced the whole genome for 23 strains of M. reukaufii. This yeast’s high intraspecific phenotypic variation was correlated with genotypic diversity, potentially contributing to its success as a nectar specialist.

Fungal taxonomy in the molecular age

Centre for Biodiversity and Biosecurity Seminar

Wednesday, 1st April 12.30pmCBB logo
Landcare Research, 231 Morrin Road

Speaker: Peter Johnston
Landcare ResearchPeter JohnstonThese are exciting times to be a mycologist. Molecular technologies are revolutionising our understanding of fungal distribution, biology, and origins. For the first time it is possible to develop phylogenies that might be accurate, to verify whether species are exotic or indigenous, and to track the distribution of fungi across landscapes. For the past 300 years, until about 10 years ago, fungal names and classifications were based on morphological characters. Today, fungal taxonomy is driven by phylogenies constructed using DNA sequences. Many user groups rely on DNA sequencing for fungal identification – plant pathologists, ecologists, mycorrhizal researchers. However, the traditional, morphologically- based fungal taxa are often not supported genetically. Therefore, access to the accumulated knowledge on an organism, linked to its morphologically based name, requires reconciliation between the traditional taxa and classifications and molecular phylogenies. High throughput sequencing technologies will be used in the Bioheritage National Science Challenge real time biodiversity assessment projects to measure changes in biological diversity across New Zealand. Analysis of the NSC fungal data will rely on the phylogeny- based classifications currently being developed, while interpretation of its significance will rely on the knowledge attached to the old names. This talk will use the Leotiomycetes (disc fungi) to illustrate some of the taxonomic issues involved with the development of these new classifications and their implications for the use of fungal names.

Auckland Kereru Project

The Auckland Kereru Project: Following the movements and diets of urban kererū (NZ pigeon) in Auckland. 

Joint Graduate School in Biodiversity and Biosecurity PhD candidate Alice Baranyovits is investigating how kererū move around fragmented landscapes and more specifically how they utilise the urban environment. In particular she is interested in their diet, particularly where and when they are eating introduced plants. In order to do this she needs your help!

There are two ways to contribute as a one-off; by recording your garden plants and/or by recording urban kererū sightings (although you can enter as many kererū sightings as you like).

If you would prefer to have a more continual involvement you can register to take part in the phenology study (recording when your plants fruit) or the quarterly kererū count or both!

To sign up, please visit the Auckland Kereru Project website