For one fossil-fuelled week every summer, anyone can be an Invercargill motorcycling legend.
For one fossil-fuelled week every summer, anyone can be an Invercargill motorcycling legend.
Burt Munro Challenge
On the island sanctuary of Whenua Hou, kākāpō only breed when rimu trees mast. Rimu responds to different temperature cues than beech. “If year two is colder than year one, there’ll be a mast in year four,” says kākāpō scientist Andrew Digby. “We count the developing fruit in the autumn. If more than eight per cent of the branch tips have fruit on them, the kākāpō will breed the following summer.” Last autumn, 47 per cent of the tips had fruit, and it has led to a record-breaking breeding season. It’s rare for rimu fruit, pictured above, to fully ripen on Whenua Hou—that last happened 17 years ago. But today, ripe red fruit carpet the ground, and kākāpō mums are feeding it to their chicks, which are growing faster than usual. Almost every nest has two chicks, or even three: “We’ve never seen that before,” says Digby. “Almost every bird has bred.” It means 2019 is a mega-mega-mast: not only are beech and rimu masting at the same time, a rare event, but masting is unusually widespread.
A number of squid newcomers have been found on a single research expedition to the Kermadecs, an island arc 1000 kilometres northeast of New Zealand. AUT University postdoctoral research fellow Heather Braid defrosted about 150 cephalopod specimens collected in late 2016 on a NIWA deep-sea survey voyage, identifying 43 species. Thirteen of these had not been sighted in New Zealand waters before, including bobtail squids, comb-fin squids and myopsid squids. Five are likely new to science (three of the five are pictured below; the other squid, lower right, is Histioteuthis miranda). Braid extracted DNA from the new species in order to compare them with squids from other parts of the world. [gallery columns="2" link="none" ids="329323,329324,329325,329326"] The Kermadecs are a site of high marine biodiversity, thanks to the juncture of a warm ocean current from the north and a cool current from the south. There is a long-stalled campaign to declare a marine sanctuary across the region. “Pretty much every time they go they find something exciting,” says Braid. “We have one of the highest biodiversities of squid and octopus species in the world.”
Everything changed on March 15, including the content of this magazine. In the days following the Christchurch terrorist attack, two journalists who contribute to New Zealand Geographic, Anke Richter and Kate Evans, began reporting on the nascent aid response led by members of the country’s Muslim and refugee communities. Photographer Lottie Hedley flew in to spend a week shadowing volunteers and victims’ families. We listened, and we waited. It took us a while to figure out what kind of story New Zealanders ought to hear—what kind of story New Zealand Geographic ought to tell. It was becoming apparent to the nation that the Muslim community was one we had not, collectively, paid much attention to. Muslims are barely represented in newsrooms or boardrooms or council chambers, and we rarely hear their stories. Yet through their actions in the wake of tragedy, the Muslim community has writ large the principles of the religion for all to see: grace, forgiveness, openness, gratitude. Anke, Lottie, Kate and I witnessed how Islam guided people’s responses to an incomprehensible event—just as it had long provided a framework, structure and routine to their lives. Since the attack, New Zealand Muslims have been telling a story about this country that’s jarringly different from the one that the majority of us have been telling ourselves. These are the stories we have focused on in our feature about the Christchurch attack. We set out to learn: how has Islam guided people through life in New Zealand thus far—and now? What would they like to add to the story we’re telling ourselves about who we are? This is us, we heard: well-meaning and friendly, a bit ignorant, not great at reaching out a welcoming hand, sometimes rude to women in hijab. We can’t ignore the negative parts of ‘us’ if we want to turn New Zealand’s outpouring of aroha into genuine acceptance of minority communities. We have to stop confusing unity with homogeneity. We have to recognise that sharing values doesn’t require conformity. “When I hear people talking about New Zealand being unified and one voice for all—all that means is suppression, it means that in order to achieve that, you all have to be the same,” says Anjum Rahman, profiled here, who spends her time combatting discrimination and division, largely on a volunteer basis. “What I don’t understand is why white supremacists are full of so much rage,” says Nada Tawfeek, who has lived in Christchurch for a decade, and lost a family member in the attack. “What happened to them to make them hate others so much? What injustices have they seen in their lives to make them this traumatised? We need to look at what the root cause of white supremacy is rather than just tackling the symptoms.” As many people quoted in the story point out, it isn’t enough to not be racist—inclusion involves effort and discomfort. It involves getting to know people who might choose to exercise their freedom differently. Integration and inclusion are active processes, requiring participation from all. Like Haji-Daoud Nabi, we all have the responsibility to say, “Hello, brother. Hello, sister.” Our refugee community is particularly good at this. In the wake of the tragedy, volunteers flew to Christchurch from other parts of the country to help. Many carried with them a shared understanding of trauma. One person featured in our story, former refugee Yobi Rajaratnam, arrived in Auckland five years ago after fleeing Sri Lanka in a people-smuggler’s boat. “Our dictionary is the longest,” he wrote of his experience as a refugee: the entries for ‘terror’ and ‘loss’ and ‘sadness’ are extensive. He flew to Christchurch to help others navigate their rapidly-expanding dictionaries: new emotions, new grief, new words. By listening, we can tell a story about ourselves that’s truer. A story that doesn’t leave anyone out.
After the attack on two Christchurch mosques, after the number of dead and injured climbed and climbed, New Zealand came to several hard realisations: This is not a peaceful and equitable country. Many people go about their daily lives steeled to hatred. At the same time, people in Christchurch banded together to help the hundreds left bereaved and traumatised by an act of terrorism.
Ornithologists have been arguing for more than a century about just what an adzebill was. Hefty flightless birds with massive beaks, they disappeared in the first wave of extinctions following human arrival in Aotearoa and are known only from their skeletons. Their bone chemistry indicates they were carnivores, and their pick-like beaks and powerful feet suggest they were diggers, perhaps excavating tuatara and seabirds from burrows. But they were apparently unrelated to any living bird species. When Richard Owen first described them from leg bones in 1844, he mistook them for small moa. Later adzebills were thought to be cousins to the sunbitterns, or the flightless kagu, the national bird of New Caledonia. Were they from the rail family—or something else entirely? Finally we have an answer, thanks to new techniques that allow palaeogeneticists to extract traces of DNA from ancient bones. An international team of researchers, including palaeontologists and ornithologists from Australia and New Zealand, found that adzebills are relatives of small ground-dwelling birds from Africa, in the obscure family Sarothruridae, or flufftails. The Madagascan wood rail is a typical flufftail—a medium-sized forest bird resembling a weka. So how did the ancestors of adzebills get from Madagascar to New Zealand? DNA suggests the split happened 40 million years ago, when the southern continents were closer together and Antarctica was further north and covered in forests. The ancestors of adzebills could fly, and were probably spread across Africa, Madagascar, Antarctica and New Zealand, leaving modern-day descendants at each end of the range. We now know that kiwi, whose closest relatives are the extinct elephant birds of Madagascar, had similarly mobile flying ancestors. Adzebills turn out to be another native bird that colonised Aotearoa from across the oceans, then lost its ability to fly.
As glaciers retreat, they lose invisible ecosystems formed of microbes—before we’ve had a chance to get to know them. Bacteria thrive just about anywhere, but nobody has investigated the microbiome of alpine glaciers on a global scale, says geologist Mike Styllas, leader of a three-year, round-the-world expedition to study ice-loving microbes on 200 glaciers in 15 countries. The team, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, want to find out how the microbes adapted to extreme conditions, and what’s happening to them in a changing climate. This project is a first-of-its-kind worldwide inventory of unseen life during times of dramatic change. New Zealand was the first stop on the itinerary because of the wealth of long-term observations gathered during annual end-of-summer snowline surveys. The late Trevor Chinn, who began the survey in 1977 and took his last flight over the Southern Alps last year, helped the team scout out the best locations—such as Richardson Glacier, one of 50 ‘index’ glaciers Chinn selected to be tracked every year. On arrival, Richardson Glacier looked dirty, hiding its ice under a thick coat of surface moraine. This provides a thermal buffer, slowing its retreat. But its recent history of withdrawal was written into the landscape, with moraine heaps dumped much further down the valley. The Aoraki/Mt Cook region was one of several field sites along a north-south transect of the Southern Alps. At each, the team gathered environmental data and took samples for DNA sequencing to identify microbial communities: one dataset from a glacier’s terminus, another from the glacial stream. “With the Richardson, we know where the glacier was a hundred years ago,” says Styllas. “Sampling further downstream, we’re going back in time and can see how microorganisms have adapted and evolved as the glacier has retreated.”
Is it true that deer act like moa in our forests, filling the ecological niche that moa left empty? Nope, says a new study by Landcare Research–Manaaki Whenua palaeobiologists Janet Wilmshurst and Jamie Wood. They compared prehistoric moa poo with modern-day deer poo, both from Daley’s Flat in the Dart River valley. Using plant pollen preserved in the faeces, they reconstructed the diets of both species, and found a wider variety of pollen in the moa poo. This points to a more diverse forest having existed at the time. Some of the plants found in moa poo are now restricted to areas deer can’t reach. (The lower half of the picture above is a boulder-top inaccessible to deer.) “It is the final nail in the coffin for any idea that deer fill the same job vacancy in the ecosystem as moa,” says Nic Rawlence, director of the University of Otago’s palaeogenetics laboratory. “Ever wondered why our native forests are relatively open under the canopy? Now you know why.”
Nightfall, and the forest comes alive with squeaking. Or it used to. Lesser short-tailed bats are clinging on in a handful of places, their populations blinking out of existence. Yet researchers are only just beginning to learn about our bat species—New Zealand’s only native mammals—and what they’re finding out is pretty weird.
The lesser short-tailed bat was once in residence in forests around the country, but has disappeared since the arrival of humans, thanks to forest clearance and the introduction of predators. Short-tailed bats are thought to be important pollinators—they crawl on the forest floor to forage for food.
Seabird scientists are creating a fake home for shags on the Noises, an island group off the coast of Auckland, in the hope that the Hauraki Gulf’s rapidly diminishing spotted shag population will be fooled into thinking it’s a great place to start a family.
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