Biological Heritage Update Issue 17, December 2017

Christmas newsletter from Andrea Byrom, Challenge Director

The year that was 2017

Once again it has been a huge year for the Challenge. Like many of the other Challenges, we’ve now contracted most of our Tranche 1 funding, project teams are up and running, and many of them are starting to get great results. We received another strong endorsement from MBIE that they are satisfied with our progress, and that we are on track to deliver greater impact for New Zealand. We have built strong relationships with communities around Aotearoa – driving huge engagement via a range of citizen science and outreach activities, including with Māori. And we have tangible examples of the good things that happen when previously-disconnected groups from different organisations come together to generate high-impact research. I’d like to give a huge thank you to all our supporters, especially our Challenge Parties, who have shown good will, enthusiasm, and dedication to ‘reversing the decline’ of New Zealand’s Biological Heritage.

Science highlight

Congratulations to the eDNA team, led by Gavin Lear at the University of Auckland, on publishing a foundation paper Methods for the extraction, storage, amplification and sequencing of DNA from environmental samples. ‘Metabarcoding’ of DNA provides a window into the world of microbial and microscopic diversity that would otherwise be largely hidden from view, and provides unprecedented taxonomic breadth at a scale not practically achievable through conventional identification of individual organisms. However, standardised molecular procedures for the identification of all life from environmental DNA must be developed. Despite the widespread appeal of DNA metabarcoding, current approaches for the analysis of biodiversity from eDNA vary widely across laboratories, particularly among groups focusing on different taxa and sample media.
The research team assessed current strengths and weaknesses of DNA metabarcoding techniques for biodiversity assessment in this groundbreaking and timely review paper and presented a conceptual framework for how integration across taxa and methods might be achieved. They then explored potential applications for national biodiversity assessment frameworks, for biodiversity monitoring by Māori, and for the primary sector. They also highlighted areas of current uncertainty and future research directions.

The team includes scientists from the University of Auckland, Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research, the Bio-Protection Research Centre at Lincoln University, the Cawthron Institute, Unitech Institute of Technology, Auckland University of Technology, the University of Canterbury, Lincoln University, the University of Waikato, Plant & Food Research, the Insect Biology Research Institute in France, and the University of Otago.

Unlocking Curious Minds

Did you know that the Biological Heritage Challenge supports the Unlocking Curious Minds fund, administered by the Curious Minds initiative? Project teams can apply to receive co-funding from us at the time of their application to the UCM fund, and if they are successful, we provide a bit of extra support throughout their project. It’s become an important part of our engagement strategy.

Last year we co-funded two hugely successful UCM projects: Ahi Pepe and Lab-in-a-Box. This year we are delighted to welcome two new projects. 

Tohu o te wā – Hangarau pūtaiao (‘signs of our time – fusing technology and science to connect people to place’) is led by Kiri Reihana & Yvonne Taura (Manaaki Whenua). The project aims to develop a mātauranga tool that takes a cross-domain perspective on the health of the environment from whenua to moana. Tohu o te wā is the fusing of science and technology to enable meaningful engagement from tamariki and rangatahi Māori youth, through the development of a Mātauranga putaiao mobile app.

Creepy crawlies meet primary production is led by Steve Pawson (Scion) and the House of Science (HoS). The project aims to engage students from 20 schools across the Bay of Plenty in science and technology through practical, hands-on learning about pest management and biosecurity in the primary industries. It promotes biosecurity science and its importance to the natural and primary production sectors (kiwifruit, avocado, forestry, farming etc). Using practical learning resources that include field-based trapping, real-time mobile reporting tools, and globally novel cyborg technologies, the aim is to show students that biosecurity science is exciting and relevant to the protection and prosperity of their local environment and communities. The project strongly aligns to our Challenge-funded project (also led by Steve) Using mobile technology to protect New Zealand from biosecurity threats (see below). Mobile tools developed in that project will form part of the education programme with schools.

Congratulations to both project teams – we look forward to working with you to enhance your efforts to reach out to enquiring young minds.

What is Biosecurity 2025?

In the last newsletter I mentioned Biosecurity 2025, which is a national effort led by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to strengthen New Zealand’s biosecurity system. Some of our research projects have been designed to help MPI achieve the strategic directions laid out in the Biosecurity 2025 Direction Statement.

In this newsletter I’d like to profile research to help with Strategic Direction 1: a biosecurity team of 4.7 million. What does this mean in practice? It’s about making all New Zealanders aware that they can be a part of the solution, by getting involved in pest surveillance and management. We’ve funded two projects involving citizen science that are exemplars for how everyone can get involved in biosecurity.

The first project is Steve Pawson’s Scion-led project Using mobile technology to protect New Zealand from biosecurity threats. Just in time for Christmas, the team released the Myrtle Rust Reporter, a mobile app for Apple and Android that uses NatureWatchNZ to enable everyone to be a kaitiaki of at-risk plants in their own neighbourhood, and to report suspected myrtle rust sightings. One benefit of using NatureWatchNZ is that there’s a team of experts just waiting to help non-specialists identify both host plants and potential myrtle rust observations. If you haven’t already downloaded it, give it a try – and encourage friends and whānau to do the same! The app is designed to work closely with MPI’s reporting hotline for exotic pests and diseases (0800 80 99 66).

Myrtle rust splash

Another citizen science project that deserves a huge mention this year is the team at Kauri Rescue. This project is led by Ian Horner at Plant and Food Research and Marie McIntee (Aranovus Ltd) – but really, it’s driven by committed groups of concerned citizens from west Auckland, Northland, and the Coromandel. The aim is to develop a programme to enable scientists, communities and mana whenua to work together on the remedial treatment of kauri trees. At the same time they will be contributing to knowledge of how to manage kauri dieback. You can read more about their research here. You will have heard a lot about Kauri dieback disease in the media recently: this project focuses in the need to bring everyone on board to turn the situation around. The project team even have their own line of merchandise if you’re looking for last-minute gift ideas for Christmas with a conservation theme!

Kauri Rescue logo

Thank you

I would like to finish by making a special mention of the Challenge Science Leadership Group (SLG), Knowledge Brokers, Support Team, and Challenge Host.

In the SLG: Thomas Buckley, Nick Waipara, Maureen O’Callaghan, Duane Peltzer, Melanie Mark-Shadbolt and (until recently) Amanda Black have all worked tirelessly this year to make the Challenge a success. I cannot thank them enough for their good humour and creative and inspired ideas for engaging with scientists, communities, stakeholders and our Challenge Parties. They always ask the question: what is best for Aotearoa New Zealand?

Likewise our hard working Knowledge Brokers – Bill Dyck, Kevin Collins and (most recently) Thomas Malcolm are there to help our science teams strengthen co-innovation in order to derive greater impact. In the last six months they have done exactly that, and we are already seeing the results in the form of co-funding opportunities for the science teams as Bill, Kevin and Thomas work with agencies and industry – simultaneously shaping the Challenge’s research directions whilst ensuring that knowledge is taken up and used as soon as possible.

There have also been some changes in our Science Leadership Team. Nick Waipara moved from Auckland Council back into a research role at Plant & Food Research, and expanded his Kaihautū role in the Challenge to span all three of our research Programmes. Amanda Black, who was working as Kaihautū in Programme 2, has stepped back from this leadership role to focus full-time on her research. I’d like to thank Amanda for her hard work and dedication to the Challenge kaupapa over the last three years. Amanda has assured us she will take the Challenge way of working wherever she goes, and indeed she has increased her commitment to Monica Gerth and Waitangi Wood’s exciting 'Stopping Kauri Dieback' project, so she hasn’t strayed far from the Challenge!

This Challenge would not be the success it is without our Support Team. Operations Manager Aaron McGlinchy, Research Activities Manager Andrea Airey, and Challenge PA Lauren Gillanders have all worked hard over the last year to streamline our systems and processes. We also welcomed Liz McCallum to the team. I don’t think she really knew what she was in for when she took on the role of Research Administrator! Coming up to speed with the breadth and depth of Challenge activities has been no easy task, and Liz has done an amazing job of rapidly wrapping her head around it all. Finally I would like to thank Kerry Barton for her work on our website and on social media. Our Support Team are often the first port of call for a very large segment of the New Zealand science community and I would like to thank them for their professionalism and dedication to making the Challenge a success.

Last but not least I would like to thank our Challenge Host, Manaaki Whenua. Their support – often unseen, in the form of IT, HR, accounting, communications and graphics, legal and PA support – has been outstanding, and has certainly been a major factor in the Challenge’s success this year.

Thank you all.
Meri Kirihemete me Ngā mihi o te tau hau,

2017 xmas card