Field-work is one of the best aspects of working as a Natural Environment curator at Te Papa. I get to spend about three weeks a year in the field collecting plant specimens.
I’ve recently returned from ten days field-work in the South Island, collecting samples for our research on lancewood (horoeka, Pseudopanax crassifolius) and fierce lancewood (P. ferox). This is in collaboration with Lara Shepherd from Massey University. Lancewood is a common forest tree and we are using DNA analyses to determine where it survived in New Zealand during the last glacial period. This follows our previous research on the forest fern Hooker’s spleenwort (Asplenium hookerianum), which seems to have survived throughout New Zealand, and conflicts with evidence that Metrosideros trees (rata and pohutukawa) were confined to only a few refugia.
Fierce lancewood, named for its bigger ‘teeth’ on the leaf margins, is more sparsely distributed that lancewood. Given the discontinuous distribution of fierce lancewood, we expected each population to exhibit its own diagnostic set of genetic variation. Preliminary results suggest this might be true for Auckland and Wellington populations, but, at this stage, we can’t genetically distinguish populations from the southern South Island, indicating the geographic discontinuity there is a geologically-recent phenomenon. We collected specimens to augment our existing sampling (the northern South Island, in particular, was a bit of a gap for us for both lancewood and fierce lancewood).
The trip was largely successful, with the weather good and the plants cooperative (in that we could find them where they were supposed to be). We now have to process the samples in the laboratory, which isn’t nearly as much fun but still necessary if we are to address the questions we’re interested in.