Keeping corals alive

Published 21 June 2011

Studying something that his children’s children may never see adds a certain urgency and poignancy to Simon Davy’s daily routine.

The United Kingdom-born associate professor in Victoria’s School of Biological Sciences is New Zealand’s only active coral symbiosis physiologist. His research focus is on the symbiotic relationship between algae and invertebrates, such as corals, and coral bleaching and disease.

Coral reefs cover just a fraction of the planet—estimated to be an area about the size of New Zealand—but are a vital part of the marine eco system and the economies of communities that rely on them for food, fish, building materials and tourism dollars.

“It’s old news to us that the reefs are going to die within 50 to 100 years,” says Dr Davy. “Climate change is the longer term threat but pollution and practises such as dynamite fishing are, if anything, a bigger problem because they are working much faster.”

Some years back, Dr Davy and a colleague were the first scientists to discover viruses in corals and the breakthrough sparked his interest in the broader topic of coral diseases.

He says corals are highly complex. They contain tiny algae which process light energy and provide the host with essential nutrients. When water temperatures rise, the micro-algae are expelled and the coral loses its colour and may die.

Full story from the Victoria research team.

The Nature Collection

NZ ON SCREEN

To celebrate NZ’s unique natural taonga, Peter Hayden has curated a highlights collection from three decades of NHNZ productions. Aotearoa’s landforms and its magnificent menagerie of natural oddities – birds, insects, trees like nowhere else on the planet – are showcased in 15 award-winning titles. From Discovery Channel and David Bellamy, to Wild South and Our World classics.

Read More ›

NZ

White kiwi chick graduates from nursery

Thursday, 2 June 2011, 12:13 pm
Press Release: Pukaha Mount Bruce

White kiwi chick

Manukura, the white kiwi chick hatched on 1 May at Pukaha Mount Bruce, yesterday got its first feel for the outside world when it graduated from the centre’s kiwi house nursery to an outdoor enclosure in the forest reserve.

After reaching its required weight and all the expected milestones, including eating on its own, the chick was moved to a predator-proof enclosure in the Pukaha native reserve where 12 other chicks have been raised this season.

Manukura was the 13th of 14 kiwi chicks hatched at the National Wildlife Centre this breeding season, the most successful there ever. The 14thchick remains will remain in the kiwi house nursery for the next week.

Thought to be the first white kiwi chick hatched in captivity, Manukura will remain in the outdoor enclosure for the next 4-6 months subject to its behaviour and welfare. Visitors to the centre will be able to see the special kiwi each Sunday at 2pm after he has been weighed by Department of Conservation (DOC) rangers.

When the fertile egg was retrieved from the Pukaha native forest and brought into captivity with others to be incubated and hatched, DoC staff at the national wildlife centre had no inkling as to what was inside. When he saw the white chick hatch, captive breeding ranger Darren Page said his first thought was “oh this one’s going to create a stir.”

Pukaha Mount Bruce manager Kathy Houkamau said staff excitement and global interest in Manukura had been matched by that of visitors on seeing the white chick. “We have had good crowds through over the past week and people have been genuinely thrilled to have the opportunity to see it. People see it as a sign of good things.”

A Facebook page to track Manukura’s progress has been set up by the centre.

Background information and photos on scoop.co.nz

Let wonderfully weird kakapo die – scientist

It might not be worth trying to save the kakapo, the critically endangered native bird that has been on the brink of extinction for decades, an Australian scientist says.

Instead, resources should go into saving species that have more chance of recovering and surviving in the evolving environment.

“It’s a wonderfully weird creature and it’s a shame that we will probably lose it regardless of any interventions. Harsh, but somebody’s got to say it,” said Cory Bradshaw, of the University of Adelaide’s director of ecological modelling.

Using a mathematical formula, Professor Bradshaw and colleagues from Adelaide and James Cook University, in northern Queensland, created a new index called Safe (Species’ Ability to Forestall Extinction), which ranks the probability of animals becoming extinct based on population.

The index goes a step further than the Red List of Threatened Species, produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which ranks animals and plants in categories from safe to critically endangered.

“It really comes down to accounting, are we deliberately or inadvertently losing hundreds if not thousands of species by putting money into species that are a lost cause? That doesn’t mean we go out and knock every one on its head though,” Professor Bradshaw said.

Other endangered animals that could be left to die off because of unsustainable population levels, according to the index, include Australian’s hairy-nosed wombat and the Javan rhinoceros.

The Conservation Department said it would look at the merits of the index but said it would continue to support the Kakapo Recovery Programme.

“DOC is very proud of the work that’s been done to save the kakapo and we’ve no intention of letting them go,” spokesman Chris Pitt said.

Full story on stuff.co.nz

ERRRRRR, YEA RIGHT  ……

Forests dying as kereru numbers fall

Our already silent forests are dying.

Scientists have proved for the first time the alarming rates of decline in regeneration of native tree species that rely on kereru, or native pigeons, to disperse seeds.

In two forests, they have found regeneration has fallen by up to 84 per cent over two years. However, they fear the problem could be far worse in other areas in which bird populations are much lower.

Canterbury university plant ecology professor Dave Kelly said researchers were taken aback by their findings. “It was a surprise for us how big the effect was and how long it was lasting for.”

At one extreme, the researchers said regeneration of trees could fail completely, leaving forests full of dying adult trees and eventually lead to the collapse of mature forests.

Dr Kelly, with Landcare Research ecologist Debra Wotton, studied native taraire and karaka trees in two forests less than 100 hectares in size.

Taraire rely exclusively, and karaka almost exclusively, on kereru to disperse their fruit, which are too big for other smaller birds to eat.

Although it was already believed that falling populations of kereru were having an impact on seed dispersal, it was the first time the link has been proved and assessed.

Full story on Stuff.co.nz

Photograph by Jim Stevens

Baby Tuatara Hatches on Matiu/Somes Island

Thursday, 28 January 2010, 11:12 am
Press Release: Department of Conservation


A photograph taken of a baby tuatara on Wellington Harbour’s Matiu/Somes Island this month has confirmed for the first time that the rare reptiles are hatching on the island.

The juvenile, just a few months old and about 8cm long, was spotted by Harriot (8) and Nicholas Lane (10) and their cousin Harrison Vernon (11) while they were walking around the island with their grandparents Bob and Suzanne Vernon.

Tuatara were transferred to Matiu/Somes in 1998 and since then adult tuatara are regularly seen on the island. It has long been suspected that they are breeding, and this was finally proven when eggs were found on the island in 2007 and hatched at Victoria University.

But this is the first confirmation that young tuatara have hatched on the island itself.

full media release on scoop.co.nz

Crimson Christmases to come

Pohutukawa on coast

A thousand pohutukawa trees are being made available for planting on the Coromandel as part of efforts to get more of the iconic New Zealand trees flowering on the peninsula.

Regional council Environment Waikato and the Project Crimson Trust are partnering up for the project which will see the 1000 pohutukawa distributed to Coromandel landowners next winter.

“The aim is to get more pohutukawa established to help this much-loved species survive, and to ensure that future generations can enjoy the red Christmases the Coromandel is well known for,” said Environment Waikato land management officer Matt Highway.

“These trees will also support Peninsula Project soil conservation initiatives, improving biodiversity, water quality and soil stability,” said Mr. Highway.

EW will distribute the seedlings to landowners via the Peninsula Project soil conservation programme. They will also collect local pohutukawa and rata seed, which will be ready for planting in three years. This eco-sourcing ensures the distinctiveness of Coromandel plants and ecosystems.

Project Crimson Trust executive director Bridget Abernethy said: “We like partnering with organisations like Environment Waikato. We can take comfort that these trees are going to go to the most appropriate locations, that they will be planted by caring communities and that they will be protected for future generations.”

The Project Crimson Trust, set up in partnership with Meridian Energy and the Department of Conservation, is dedicated to the protection and enhancement of New Zealand’s pohutukawa and rata trees. Project Crimson Trust is celebrating 20 years this February 2010.

In 1989 around 90 per cent of the original area of pohutukawa in New Zealand was thought to have been lost. Much of what remained had been ravaged by possums, with very little regeneration evident. Since 1990, Project Crimson volunteers have planted almost half a million pohutukawa across New Zealand.

Climate change increases value of native plant

Monday, 21 December 2009, 11:12 am
Press Release: NZ Plant Conservation Network

Climate change increases value of Kiwi native plant

The golden sand sedge – pingao – has won the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network’s 2009 favourite plant poll, and could be a valuable defence against climate change effects.

The pingao topped more than 100 species in the annual poll. Network President Philippa Crisp said that pingao would become increasingly important in combating the effects of climate change, particularly as an increasing number of coastal homes came under threat

“If the global plan to fight climate change stalls and sea level rises occur, pingao will become even more important to New Zealanders because it plays an important role in stabilising sand dunes and creating a beach contour that is not so vulnerable to storm events and sea level rises,” Dr Crisp said. “Pingao may be our only sustainable hope for coastal protection”.

full media release on scoop.co.nz

New Zealand seeking a world heritage night sky reserve for Tekapo Aoraki-Mt Cook.

2010 – pivotal in seeking to secure world night sky reserve for New Zealand
Next year is pivotal to the success of New Zealand seeking a world heritage night sky reserve for Tekapo Aoraki-Mt Cook

A UNESCO World Heritage meeting in Brasilia in June will be crucial to New Zealand’s chances, leader of the Working party bid former Cabinet minister Margaret Austin says.

“We are launching a nationwide campaign in the lead up to the Brasilia conference next year, so we can tell the public people this project has real and exciting potential particularly in the lead up to the Brasilia conference.’’

Austin says there has been a reluctance to acknowledge that the stars and starlight are significant to human heritage under UNESCO conventions.  But there is a groundswell of public concern at the extent to which people no longer see the stars in so many parts of the world and we need a source of income to achieve our goal of world heritage and international support.

The key milestone this year was getting the Tekapo Aoraki/Mt Cook starlight reserve working party up and running so the bid could demonstrate their commitment to the project. With the backing of the Mackenzie District Council there is a belief that astro-tourism, education and awareness of the significance of the dark sky and appreciation of the cultural history for Maori can be realised in the next few years.

full media release on scoop.co.nz

Top predator makes spectacular return to capitalHutt Vally

Scoop: Top predator makes spectacular return to capital
Fledgling NZ Falcon. Photo by Tom Lynch, ZEALANDIA/Karori Sanctuary Trust.
Photo by Tom Lynch, ZEALANDIA/Karori Sanctuary Trust.
Click to enlarge

Press Release: Zealandia

New Zealand’s top predator makes spectacular return to the capital

Conservation staff at the groundbreaking ZEALANDIA eco-sanctuary in Wellington believe they have found the first New Zealand falcons to have hatched in the city since the species disappeared as a breeding population in the Seventies.

“It’s an extremely significant discovery,” said ZEALANDIA conservation manager Raewyn Empson

“Although there are quite a few breeding pairs in the Hutt Vally and Eastbourne, they haven’t bred in Wellington city for decades! And they are hanging around right next to the main track, so it really is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see these powerful predators up close and in their element”

This time last year, ZEALANDIA staff found the capital’s first ever recorded nest, very close to where this year’s fledgings are hanging out. Unfortunately, the nest had been abandoned before any eggs were laid. A second nest, this time with eggs in it, was found in July – incredibly early for falcons – but that also failed.

full media realease on scoop.co.nz

Kakariki breeding on Motutapu 1st time in 100 yrs

December 3, 2009


Click for big version

Kakariki breeding on Motutapu for first time in 100 years

They’ve been gone for more than 100 years, but last week, a family of red-crowned parakeets was spotted flying down from the trees in a peaceful gully on Motutapu.

Luis Ortiz-Catedral, parakeet specialist and Massey University PhD student, says one of the birds was clearly a recently fledged juvenile that must have hatched on the island.

“I estimate it fledged about two weeks ago considering the size of the tail, the colouration of the beak and also because it was still being fed by its parents,” he says.

Red-crowned parakeets — one of five main species of kakariki — were recorded on Motutapu in September by the Ornithological Society of New Zealand (OSNZ). The OSNZ conducts bird surveys for the Motutapu Restoration Trust every year. Mr Ortiz-Catedral joined them last week to look for signs of breeding parakeets.

Only the male of the pair was banded, and had been released on nearby pest-free Motuihe eight months ago.

Motutapu and Rangitoto are on their way to becoming pest-free after the Department of Conservation began a two-year campaign to rid the islands of seven remaining mammalian pests in June this year.

Full story on scoop

First kaka chick of breeding season banded

First kaka chick of breeding season banded | Stuff.co.nz
kaka

ROBERT KITCHIN/ The Dominion Post

Just minutes out of the nest and the terrified chick found himself having two feathers pulled out, a microchip inserted and numerous measurements taken.

Yellow Mauve Lime, named after his leg band colours, was the first kaka chick of this year’s breeding season to be banded at Zealandia wildlife sanctuary in Karori on Thursday.

The 538-gram native was a “brave frontrunner” which underwent the experience calmly, Conservation officer Matu Booth said.

As Mr Booth inserted almost his whole arm into the heart of Yellow Mauve Lime’s nest, the mother bird and five other kaka squawked overhead but eventually calmed down.

The chick also settled down, and Mr Booth said banding kaka was much more enjoyable than banding other birds, partly because kaka chicks were relatively big and easier to handle.

Full story on stuff

NZ On Screen, The Nature Collection

nature-topper

NZ Nature on screen

To celebrate NZ’s unique natural taonga, Peter Hayden has curated a highlights collection from three decades of NHNZ productions. Aotearoa’s landforms and its magnificent menagerie of natural oddities – birds, insects, trees like nowhere else on the planet – are showcased in 15 award-winning titles. From Discovery Channel and David Bellamy, to Wild South and Our World classics.

Read More ›

http://www.nzonscreen.com/collection/nature

Sirocco the kakapo an online phenomenon

07 October 2009

This week’s screening of the BBC’s “Last Chance to See” programme featuring New Zealand’s own conservation ambassador Sirocco the kākāpō, has catapulted kākāpō recovery into the international spotlight.

Department of Conservation staff have been amazed by the response that viewers of the “Last Chance to See” programme, starring Stephen Fry and Mark Cawardine, has evoked from the British public.

“His Facebook page alone jumped from 600 friends to over 2000 friends in the 48 hours following the broadcast of the kākāpō episode of “Last Chance to See”,” said Sirocco’s media advisor Nic Vallance from the Department of Conservation.

“And the Youtube clip of him getting ‘up close and personal’ with presenter Mark Cawardine has resulted in well over half a million hits.”

The show “Last Chance to See” is a remake of the series that the late Douglas Adams and Mark Cawardine recorded for radio and published a book on in 1990.

Many of the comments posted on Sirocco’s rapidly growing Facebook page send words of support and encouragement to kākāpō recovery as well as many offers of donations to continue to increase the survival of the kākāpō.

“The international interest in kākāpō is just fantastic,” said Vallance.

Scoop: full press realease on scoop

Giant eagle ruled New Zealand skies

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A new study shows that New Zealand’s giant – and now extinct – Haast’s eagle ruled the skies until 500 years ago, swooping down on moa.

Scientists have known about the existence of Haast’s eagle since 1871 based on excavated bones, including bones carved by early Maori, but their behaviour was not entirely clear.

Because of their large size – they weighed up to 18kg with wingspans up to 3m – some scientists believed they were scavengers rather than predators.

Earlier research has indicated the eagle had enough strength in its talons to kill a moa weighing 180kg, attacking at up to 80kph, or even to attack a human child.

The latest study throwing new light on this was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Researchers Dr Paul Scofield, curator of vertebrates at the Canterbury Museum, and Professor Ken Ashwell of the University of New South Wales used computerised CT and CAT scans to reconstruct the size of the brain, eyes, ears and spinal cord of the Haast’s eagle.

These details were compared to values from modern predatory and scavenging birds to determine the habits of the extinct eagle.

“This work is a great example of how rapidly evolving medical techniques and equipment can be used to solve ancient mysteries,” said Dr Ashwell.

full story

video of Dr Paul Scofield talking about the birds of Christchurch

Native birds feel no fear when facing foes

Scoop: Native birds feel no fear when facing foes

Click to enlarge

Sarah Whitwell with the stuffed stoat and morepork she has been using to test fear responses of the North Island robin.


Endangered native birds are at risk of losing their instinct to recognise and flee mammalian enemies when moved between predator-free and predator-filled sites, says a Massey researcher.

Sarah Whitwell, a biology Masters student at Massey’s Institute of Natural Resources in Albany, designed an experiment using a pulley system to dangle a stuffed stoat and morepork at nesting North Island robins to test their fear responses. She says most robins in areas free of introduced predators such as stoats failed to get into a flap at the sight of an enemy, albeit a fake version.

Her research adds to growing evidence that native birds’ responses to mammalian predators are not genetically hard-wired.

“That’s because introduced mammal predators have been here a relatively short time, whereas native birds have been here for millions of years.”

She says already endangered native bird species would be at increased risk if moved back to wilderness sites with mammalian predators after inhabiting mammal-free conservation areas without some form of predator-recognition training.

The responses of robins in predator-controlled Wenderholm Reserve and Tiritiri Matangi Island near Auckland were compared with those in the central North Island, where the birds have long co-existed with native and introduced predators.

FULL PRESS REALEASE ON SCOOP

On the lookout for lizards

Scoop: On the lookout for lizards
Wellington green gecko, DOC
Click to enlarge

Conservation staff on the DOC Poneke area-managed Matiu/Somes Island in Wellington Harbour are preparing for an exciting arrival on Friday’s 10 am ferry sailing.

15 rare Wellington green geckos, seven of which have spent the last twelve months on ‘sabbatical’ at the city’s Karori Sanctuary, are being released on the island on Friday 15 November as part of an annual translocation programme – the largest to date.

DOC first began translocating green geckos to the island sanctuary in 2006 to create a self-sustaining population on this predator-free island. They have been working with local lizard breeders to ensure a genetically diverse supply of geckos for release on a yearly basis. This year, 16 lucky local school children with a special interest in conservation have been chosen to take part in the release.

‘Establishing a safe population on Matiu/Somes will help ensure survival’, said DOC biodiversity ranger Brent Tandy.

Local lizard enthusiasts and conservation projects like Karori Sanctuary play a critical support role for DOC’s gecko recovery programme in terms of both advocacy and breeding. One year old animals are taken to the Sanctuary for display in a special gecko enclosure before being released on the island at two years old.

full

First tuatara nest found in 200 years

First tuatara nest found in 200 years – 01 Nov 2008 – NZ Herald: New Zealand and International environment and global warming news
An adult male tuatara at Karori Sanctuary and (inset) the clutch of eggs - the first nest found on mainland NZ for 200 years. Photos / Supplied

The first confirmed tuatara nest in over 200 years on mainland New Zealand has been discovered at the Karori Sanctuary in Wellington.

Sanctuary staff uncovered the four ping-pong-ball-sized leathery white eggs yesterday during routine maintenance work near the sanctuary’s mammal-proof fence.

Raewyn Empson said that about this time last year staff had found a gravid (egg-carrying) female.

The eggs would have been laid almost exactly a year ago in a shallow trench dug by the female and then backfilled.

“We knew of two suspected nests but didn’t want to disturb them to confirm whether or not they contained eggs.”

The nest had been uncovered by accident and was the first concrete proof that the sanctuary’s tuatara were breeding.

Ms Empson suggested there might be other nests in the sanctuary.

The eggs had been immediately covered up again to avoid disturbing their incubation.

Although only four eggs were unearthed, it was likely that there were more in the nest as an average clutch contained around 10 eggs.

full story

Longer breeding season provides new hope for the kiwi

New hope for the kiwi

It might be down to global warming or just a couple of shorter winters on the trot, but whatever the reason, the kiwi breeding season is getting longer – the kiwi bird that is.

That is good news for those working to ensure the survival of the North Island brown kiwi as Ali Ikram found out.

Watch TV3 video

Dinosaur Descendant Reptile Loves Sex Again; Henry the Tuatara Becomes Dad at 111 Years of Age! : EcoWorldly

Henry the Tuatara, has suddenly regained his sexual vigor, and scientists in a New Zealand zoo are excited that he is becoming a dad, after nearly 40 boring years living a life of an eunuch. Science world is also excited with Henry’s newly acquired fame, largely because his family is ‘ancient’, even pre-dating evolution of the dinosaurs.

A large part of the excitement, however, is not that Henry seems to be racing against time but he is enjoying the company of three mates in his sunset years. He has lived long, though, with his species having a lifespan of about 70 years in the wild.

Tuatara resemble lizards, but are equally related to lizards and snakes, both of which are classified as Squamata, their closest living relatives, according to Wikipedia.Scientists find them quite fascinating and the tuatara are of great interest in the study of the evolution of lizards and snakes, and for the reconstruction of the appearance and habits of the earliest diapsids (the group that additionally includes birds and crocodiles).

Native only to New Zealand, they are believed to be descended from a creature that roamed the face of the earth during the age of dinosaurs around 200 million years ago. It hasn’t changed its form much in over 225 million years! The relatives of tuatara died out about 60 million years ago which is why the tuatara is sometimes called a ‘living fossil’.

But Henry had not been known to show any interest in sex during his 40 years in captivity despite the fact that tuataras reach sexual maturity between 15 and 20 years of age. It was only the recent removal of a cancerous growth from Henry’s genitals that seemingly reinvigorated his loins, according to officials at the New Zealand Zoo where he makes his home.

full story

about tuataras