I have just started work on my PhD, based at Te Papa Tongarewa and enrolled at Massey University, Palmerston North. I am joining Heidi and Carlos in the Te Papa herbarium, working on our native forget-me-nots (genus Myosotis); you can read about some of the work already ongoing in older blogs posts:
I recently got to go on a whirlwind trip to Kaitaia, to collect the critically endangered Matthew’s forget-me-not (Myosotis matthewsii). This special endemic forget-me-not is only known from the south end of the Warawara forest, near Mitimiti, which is a beautiful, if wriggly, drive of about an hour and a half south of Kaitaia.
We had a team of seven out plant hunting on a windy day in March; myself, Fiona Cameron from the Department of Conservation (DOC), Rongo Bentson the local DOC-iwi liaison officer, Wayne Te Tai and Anaru Kendell representing Te Rarawa iwi, and Kevin Matthews and Bill Campbell from the local botanical society. It added a nice layer to the day when I learnt that M. matthewsii was actually named after Kevin’s great great uncle, Richard Henry Matthews (1835-1912), who botanised Northland extensively in his later life!
Our trip started with a moving karakia (prayer) from Wayne, as this was my first trip to the Warawara ngahere (forest). From there we proceeded slowly up the hill (you never get anywhere very fast when there are botanists in the group!) until we reached our location, just inside the edge of the coastal forest, dominated by beautiful nikau – a good spot for lunch.
We found 63 plants of M. matthewsii, spread over a couple of hundred meters. Here is what they look like:
There may also be another population of M. matthewsii growing further in the forest, but at this stage these 63 plants are the only confirmed individuals of this species growing on the whole planet.
So why were we collecting samples from a critically endangered species, only known from a single small area? Basically, because we don’t know very much at all about this species, and until we know a little bit more, we don’t know how to go about conserving it.
Essentially, we want to assess whether M. matthewsii really is a separate species – it looks fairly similar to a more widespread native forget-me-not called M. spathulata.
To determine if M. matthewsii is different, I will take detailed measurements of lots of morphological characters from these and other herbarium specimens of M. matthewsii and M. spathulata.
I will also use population genetic techniques to determine if there is gene-flow between populations, which is another way of assessing species limits. The population genetic research should also inform us as to whether M. matthewsii is suffering from inbreeding depression, which will in turn help to inform management decisions.
On this trip, we collected one whole plant to go into the herbarium at Te Papa as a voucher specimen. We also collected leaves from 11 other plants and placed them in bags with silica gel beads, a drying medium that preserves the tissue for genetic analyses.
I had a wonderful day, and felt very fortunate to have such an interesting and keen group of people out with me.
I’ll keep you updated when we get some results!