Field work is a key aspect of biodiversity research to locate and collect new specimens to study. Botany Researcher Heidi Meudt took two South Island field trips in Dec 2018 and Jan 2019 with two university students in tow. Combining research and training is often a great way to get scientific research done – but was it successful this time?
Meet the students
In December 2018, undergraduate student Justin Liu received a 2018/2019 VUW Summer Scholarship to work as an intern at Te Papa. His project on native New Zealand forget-me-nots (Myosotis) was twofold: to digitise the entire forget-me-not collection at Te Papa, and to assist with collecting new specimens in the field. Both of these things would be new experiences for Justin.
At the same time, Weixuan Ning was just starting his PhD studies at Massey University, co-supervised by Jennifer Tate and myself. Weixuan’s project is on the evolution of native New Zealand species of Azorella, a genus in the carrot family. Weixuan had previously studied and conducted research in China, Finland, and Germany. His experience up to then was mostly in the lab, and he had not yet done any field work in New Zealand. But he needed to start collecting samples of Azorella for his PhD research project, so he joined our first trip.
The first trip – many new experiences
Our first trip was to the Richmond Range and Mt Starveall in the northern part of the South Island. On this trip was Weixuan, Justin, Sam Rowland (Department of Conservation), and myself.
To get to the locations where the Myosotis and Azorella plants were likely to be found, we had to backpack with all our food and gear for several days, staying in huts in the evenings.
It was physically very demanding to tramp several kilometres each day, searching for difficult-to-find plants. And of course there were no showers, flush toilets, restaurants, or internet, but each morning we woke up immersed in New Zealand mountains and nature. Justin and Weixuan quickly gained experience collecting plant specimens, and also learned a great deal firsthand about the plants and birds around them, back country tramping, maps and navigation, and team work.
We relied on each other 24/7 for safety, gear, conversation, encouragement, and getting the work done. One day, we all had to link our arms to safely cross a river, together. This image embodies the strong bond that was formed among all the team members, which is perhaps just as important as the collections we made. Weixuan and Justin overcame tiredness, difficult terrain, long days, soggy boots, and several other challenges with a remarkably positive attitude.
The best part was witnessing Weixuan’s joy as he masterfully collected his first ever specimen of Azorella!
The second trip – high into the mountains
The following month, in January 2019, we took a second trip to high alpine areas of Westland, Arthurs Pass and Mt Cook National Parks.
Justin, Sam and I definitely benefited from the fitness acquired on the first trip. We had several long but successful days of tramping and collecting in all three national parks with local botanists.
There was also a special treat or two in store for Justin on this trip: using helicopters to fly in to some remote sites, and experiencing alpine snow.
Both Justin and Weixuan helped us make many new collections on their first botanical field trips in the New Zealand mountains. In return, they gained experience, skills, self-confidence, and new friendships.
Since then, Justin has successfully completed the rest of his Summer Scholarship project. He also graduated from VUW – with a double major in Marine Biology and Mathematics, of all things.
Weixuan has recently successfully completed his Confirmation of Registration at Massey University. I am also pleased to report that he has since organised and undertaken several of his own field trips!
Many thanks to the Department of Conservation for supporting this work, to Justin Liu and Weixuan Ning for their hard work, and to the colleagues who accompanied us: Sam Rowland, Jane Gosden, Chris Ecroyd, Phil Garnock-Jones, Jessie Prebble, Alex Fergus, Chris Morse, John Barkla and Kerry Ford.