An important function for Te Papa’s natural history collections is to document the plants and animals we have in New Zealand. What species are present, how can they be distinguished, and where do they occur? These questions need addressing before our biodiversity, both indigenous and exotic, can be managed in an informed manner. It is the purpose of natural history collections like Te Papa’s to provide the tangible, physical proof – in the form of specimens – to address these questions.
Although a national icon, there was no specimen of silver fern (ponga, Cyathea dealbata) from the wider Waimate area in any of New Zealand’s three major herbaria of dried plant specimens: Landcare Research, Auckland Museum, and Te Papa. The distribution map for silver fern that we’re about to publish for the eFloraNZ shows (incorrectly, it turns out) a large gap between Peel Forest (near Geraldine) and Dunedin. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
To improve the documentation of New Zealand’s plants, three of Te Papa’s botanists were dispatched to the recent John Child Bryophyte and Lichen Workshop. This was based near Waimate, with a side trip to Peel Forest. About 25 people attended, professionals and enthusiasts, from throughout New Zealand, and with five visitors from Australia. Afterwards, on the way home, the Te Papa team took the opportunity to collect, under a Department of Conservation permit, from several sites in Marlborough. Without wanting to embarrass my employer, Te Papa’s collections of bryophytes (and ferns) from these areas were poor (so hence the need for more collecting).
Our first collecting site was Mount Studholme, near Waimate. This view is to the northwest-ish, with the Southern Alps in the distance. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
The Scenic Reserve in the foothills of Mount Nimrod / Kaumira was an interesting collecting site and a good walk. We were only an hour and a half late. Near Waimate. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
The largely limestone catchment in the Isolated Hill area, near Ward in Marlborough, makes for a stunning setting. Some unusual bryophytes and ferns, but not very diverse. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
On our first collecting day, we set a new elevation record for Te Papa’s new 4WD, with 1100 m on Mount Studholme near Waimate. We smashed that with 1700 m on our last collecting day, on top of Marlborough’s Black Birch Range. The snow-capped Tapuae-o-Uenuku of the Inland Kaikoura Range is the backdrop. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
Roughly speaking, the smaller and less feathery something is, the poorer is its documentation. Being small plants, there is plenty of work to be done with bryophytes and lichens. “Bryophyte” is a collective term for mosses and liverworts. These are individually tiny plants that are nevertheless ecologically significant because of their substantial collective biomass. Lichens are a symbiotic association of a fungus with an alga or cyanobacterium. If you know what you’re doing, it’s not too difficult to find new species, at least with liverworts and lichens. And, new distribution records abound.
Parts of the forest floor of Gunns Bush are carpeted in loose clumps of the moss Camptochaete angustata. Near Waimate. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
The colloquial name of Bartramia apple mosses comes from their apple-like spore capsules. Black Birch Range. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
A known but unnamed species of Porella liverwort. Matt Renner of Sydney’s Botanic Gardens and Landcare Research’s David Glenny are in the process of scientifically describing it (i.e., giving it a scientific name). Craigmore, near Timaru. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
The liverwort Schistochila chlorophylla, with its spore capsules. Some of the capsules are unopened, while in others the walls of the capsule have split into four, releasing the spores. Peel Forest. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
Bryologists in action
The hall of the camp at Gunns Bush, converted temporarily into a laboratory. Identifying mosses, liverworts, and lichens often requires examination with a microscope. The Te Papa contingent, at right, are hard at work. Some of the Australians, at left, appear to be gossiping. Gunns Bush Camp, Waimate. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
Finding interesting species can take a bit of looking. Here, Matt Renner from Sydney’s Botanic Gardens and Landcare Research’s David Glenny search a bank next to a small waterfall. Peel Forest. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
Wet feet are no barrier for intrepid collectors. Landcare’s David Glenny and Te Papa’s Peter Beveridge and Pat Brownsey inspect a limestone cliff for bryophytes, at the base of Sawcut Gorge. Isolated Hill, near Ward. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
Looking for bryophytes on a limestone bank in pasture: Paddy Dalton (University of Tasmania), Peter Beveridge (Te Papa), and David Glenny (Landcare Research). Craigmore, near Timaru. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
While Pat and Peter collected mosses and liverworts for Te Papa, I collected ferns and lycophytes. Although better known than mosses and liverworts, there is still work to be done with New Zealand’s ferns, as with the silver fern example above.
Koru, or young, uncurling fern frond of kiokio, Blechnum novae-zelandiae, with the species’s characteristic “black-spot” scales. The is one of the most common New Zealand ferns. Near Kaikoura. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
The closest I got to collecting bryophytes on this trip was collecting specimens of the inappropriately-named “clubmosses”, such as this Huperzia australiana. They are not mosses at all, but vascular plants like ferns and seed plants. Huperzia australiana occurs in alpine or other cold areas, where there is a bit of ground moisture. Mount Studholme, near Waimate. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
It has been dry around Waimate. This Hymenophyllum villosum filmy fern was curling its fronds to reduce water loss through transpiration. It will unfurl with the next rain. Near Waimate. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
Notogrammitis crassior (previously known as Grammitis poeppigiana) grows in alpine and other cold habitats. Tucked into a crevice is a usual place to find it. Black Birch Range. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
Orange spore-producing capsules line the underside margins of fronds of the ring fern, Paesia scaberula. I find distinctive the somewhat diamond-shaped fertile segments. Near Kaikoura. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.
We came back with about 450 specimens to add to Te Papa’s collection. The 100 or so ferns are all identified, but identifying the moss and liverwort specimens will take longer, as many will require microscopic examination. For all of the specimens, their collection details will be databased, and these data will then be available from Te Papa’s Collections Online website. The specimens themselves will be filed away in the Botany collection, available to those who need to physically inspect them, be it the following day or in several hundred years’ time.
The 2015 Workshop on Twitter.
Te Papa blog posts about previous John Child Bryophyte and Lichen Workshops.