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Research Vignettes from the Natural History Team

Friday 24 November, 4:30 pm - 6:00 pm

$25.00 – $30.00

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.

Leon Perrie is a Curator of Botany whose research focuses on the taxonomy and relationships of New Zealand’s ferns and lycophytes.  He co-authored the fern and lycophyte chapters for the electronic Flora of New Zealand.  He also works with Pacific ferns, especially those of New Caledonia, and occasionally dabbles with flowering plants (e.g., Speargrasses, Lancewoods, Schoenus).  His current collecting focuses on liverworts, mosses, and weeds.  He was the lead science curator for Te Papa’s principal natural history exhibition: Te Taiao | Nature.
Lara Shepherd (Science Researcher) is a scientist who uses DNA as a tool to understand the origins and relationships of our plants and animals.
Julia Kasper (Lead Invertebrates Curator) is an entomologist specialised in flies. She studies the taxonomy and distribution of lower Diptera in New Zealand with a strong focus on conservation, biosecurity and public health. Her background is in medical and forensic entomology. Julia has a strong interest in outreach especially on topics such as medical entomology, freshwater macro-invertebrates and pollination.
Kerry Walton (Invertebrates Curator) is a researcher specialising in molluscs, of which, Aotearoa has approximately 4,500 living species. His work includes genetics, taxonomy, biogeography and phylogeography as well as fieldwork and teaching. He is especially interested in the conservation of large, endangered land-snails, and studying unusual deep-sea habitats, such as hydrothermal vents. Kerry has experience collaborating or consulting on a range of palaeogenetics (ancient DNA), conservation, biosecurity and iwi-led projects.
Image Credits: Above: Insect drawer of the Gurr collection with bumble bees; image Julia Kasper. Top Left: Leon collecting a specimen of the weedy Lomatia fraseri from Wainuiomata.  Photo by Lara Shepherd Right: Large-leaved kōwhai, Sophora tetraptera. CC BY 4.0. Te Papa (SP068066). Botton Left: Invertebrates Curator Kerry Walton examines Powelliphanta land snail specimens at Te Papa; image Cailie Ward.


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Friday 24 November
4:30 pm - 6:00 pm
$25.00 – $30.00


Friends of Te Papa
(04) 381 7051


Te Taiao | Nature
Te Papa, 55 Cable Street, Te Aro
Wellington, Wellington 6011 New Zealand