I recently spent a week on Norfolk Island collecting ferns. One non-fern plant I was particularly keen to see was harakeke (Phormium tenax), on which I’ve done recent genetic work. On Norfolk Island it is known as flax, so I’ll use that name here. What I hadn’t appreciated before the trip was the significance of flax to the settlement of Norfolk Island.
The iNaturalist City Nature Challenge is an annual event to see which city can record the most observations, species, and participants over a four-day period. 2023 was the third year that Wellington has participated. Science Researcher Lara Shepherd highlights some of the interesting discoveries made during the challenge. This year
Three of our botanists recently spent a week on Norfolk Island collecting ferns with colleagues from the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Our fern findings will be detailed in a future blog post but here we discuss interesting flowering plants that we saw – some of which were very familiar to us as New Zealanders but others were completely new!
Speargrasses, with their sharp leaves and flower spikes, may look like a plant you want to avoid at all costs but a number of critters call them home, including the charismatic speargrass weevils. Science researcher Lara Shepherd introduces these weevils, plus some other critters that utilise speargrass plants. When I
The large-leaved Aciphylla speargrasses or taramea are difficult plants to collect. Their rigid leaves are tipped in a sharp point and the bracts on their flower spikes are similarly ferocious. These defences are thought to have evolved to avoid browsing by moa, but they also work against botanists! Consequently, speargrasses are under‑represented in plant collections (herbaria). Te Papa Research Scientist Lara Shepherd and Botany Curator Leon Perrie describe how they approached sampling speargrasses on their recent collecting trip.
Sun, rain, hail, mist and snow – Research Scientist Lara Shepherd and Botany Curator Leon Perrie encountered them all over an epic six-week plant collecting trip late in 2022. Their aim was to collect Aciphylla speargrasses for a research project to determine the number of species. Here is an overview
Aotearoa New Zealand has a plethora of weird and wonderful plants. The ferociously spiky speargrasses are some of our most distinctive plants and an iconic feature of New Zealand’s high-country, especially when flowering. Te Papa Research Scientist Lara Shepherd and Botany Curator Leon Perrie recently embarked on a new project
New DNA research by Science Researcher Lara Shepherd and Vertebrate Curators Colin Miskelly and Alan Tennyson has revealed parallel evolution in the small seabirds called prions. This unexpected result requires recognition of an eighth species of prion. Their research also revealed that all the birds formerly known as ‘fulmar prions’ are endemic to Aotearoa New Zealand. This means that we have gained two additional endemic bird species, and Australia has lost a breeding species.
Huia are one of Aotearoa’s most well-known birds, despite going extinct over 100 years ago. Early European scientists were fascinated by the radically different bills of the male and female huia, a feature called sexual dimorphism. More recently scientists recognised the New Zealand wattlebird family, which includes huia, as one of three families worldwide containing the most extreme variation in bills. A new study by Massey University’s Gillian Gibb and Te Papa’s Lara Shepherd used DNA sequences to determine when the New Zealand wattlebird family and the extraordinary sexual dimorphism in huia evolved.
With large areas of the city protected in reserves, Wellington is known for being rich in biodiversity. But beyond the highly-visible kākā, tuī and pōhutukawa, how well do you know the plants and animals with which we share the city? Wellington recently competed in the iNaturalist City Nature Challenge, an annual competition to see which city can record the most species during a four day period. Science Researcher Lara Shepherd thinks what we found lurking in our backyard might surprise you…
A few years ago, our Vertebrate Curators Alan Tennyson and Colin Miskelly challenged Te Papa’s geneticist Lara Shepherd to identify a couple of penguin heads recovered from Antarctic toothfish stomachs. This year, Colin had another penguin puzzle for Lara to solve – what species was the headless penguin he found on a remote Rakiura | Stewart Island beach?
Last spring, Te Papa’s Leon Perrie, Lara Shepherd and Bridget Hatton travelled to Whanganui to collect plant specimens from the garden of the late Ian and Jocelyn Bell. Many of the plants in the garden are rarely cultivated in New Zealand and were not represented in our botany collection. Research Scientist Lara Shepherd takes us behind the specimen-collecting scenes.
This year Wellington is competing against over 400 cities worldwide, and five other New Zealand cities in the iNaturalist City Nature Challenge. The aim of this friendly bioblitz-style competition is to record as many species as possible in the four days from 29 April to 2 May. With our fabulous array of forest and marine reserves, we hope Wellington can show the rest of the country, and the world, what a biologically diverse city we live in.