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Te Papa’s Natural History Team are at the forefront of New Zealand’s science research – producing some 40 to 50 published research papers annually! Join us for a unique opportunity to hear some of their latest research findings while seated in the Te Taiao | Nature exhibiton space on Level Two. We will hear from four experts, covering a range of topics highlighted below, before taking a guided look at the recently refreshed Science display in Te Taio. Following the talk, you are warmly invited to mingle with a glass of wine, get to know our Natural History Curators and ask any burning questions you may have. Read on for a sneak peek at the fascinating topics they will be covering…
Wellington as a wonderland for weeds with Botany Curator Leon Perrie: New Zealand is one of the world’s weediest places. Our indigenous vascular plants are outnumbered by nearly 3000 exotic species that now self-propagate here; many of these are environmentally-damaging weeds. The biggest source of new weeds is the nation’s gardens. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment recently bemoaned New Zealand’s surveillance system for new weeds as patchy, limited, passive, and serendipitous. This talk will introduce two species newly detected as problematic weeds in Wellington: the Australian tree Lomatia fraseri whose story is outlined in the Treehouse Science display, and the succulent tree-of-love Aichryson laxum from the Canary Islands. We will also learn how to actively help spot new weeds.
New Discoveries about Kōwhai with Science Researcher Lara Shepherd: This talk will cover a couple of recent research projects involving kōwhai, New Zealand’s unofficial national flower. What plants grew in prehistoric central Otago? DNA identification of preserved seeds from rockshelters has helped paint a picture of the original vegetation in this heavily-modified area. DNA has also been used to identify 200+ years old kōwhai specimens from Te Papa’s herbarium. Learn what we have uncovered about the early cultivation of kōwhai in Europe and the surprise discovery of a species extinct in the wild.
Insect pollinator decline with Lead Invertebrates Curator Julia Kasper: Insect decline does not only mean reduced yields but also the loss of plant species. Worldwide researchers try to better understand the pollination networks in order to stop this process. For example, pollen on insect specimens in natural history collections in museums compared with studies of recent samples are used to reconstruct the effects of land-use change and climate change. This can help to better manage farming methods and conservation areas. Te Papa is involved in several projects that support native bees and the understanding of pollination services by insects.
How to Make a Snail Talk: Applying Ancient DNA to Old Shells with Invertebrates Curator Kerry Walton: Shells in museum collections hold many secrets. Aotearoa has over 5,000 living mollusc species, but as many as half of them have never been seen or collected alive. If only their shells could talk! We applied cutting-edge genetic techniques to see what we could learn from shells in Te Papa’s collections, with some surprising and useful results.