Zombies of Zealandia? A Halloween review of the Ghosts of Gondwana

(This review was published in the New Zealand Ecological Society newsletter no. 160, July 2017, pp 22-24)   Earlier this year I was in the Southern Alps with a first year field trip where we look at the geology of the region and what it tells us about the biological…

Caught in a trap? The surprising journey of the New Zealand trapdoor spider

Back in 2015, my supervisor (Adrian Paterson)wrote about how I used tethered beetles to collect trapdoor spiders (genus Cantuaria) without harming the beetles, spiders, or their habitat. I needed to collect those spiders for my PhD research into their biogeography (where they live), ecology (how they live), and conservation (if…

Ready to fire: flammability traits may allow manuka to dominate

Marley Hill, Port Hills, ablaze CC-By-NC Jon Sullivan Some of my strongest memories are associated with fire. There is the satisfaction of splitting and stockpiling wood for the winter. The excitement of giant bonfires on Guy Fawkes Night and at parties growing up (especially the massive one we had on our…

Explaining science: laypeople, layers of meaning and lazy writing

I would estimate that about half of my time as a University lecturer is in writing/reading science. The vast amount of this is either writing or reading articles by scientists written for scientists. Science writing values precision over clarity and a layperson has very little chance of easily following along….

When history is evolution: the seals of Banks Peninsula

Recently, I caught up with an old school friend. It seems a long time since we played aspects of the same character in the musical “I was a teenage Jekyll and Hyde” at South Otago High School. Brent has a successful career as a history teacher, publishing text books and generally…

Splitting up the beetles: Come together on Banks Peninsula?

I’ve always been a fan of the beetles. They are some of the most obvious insects in our environments as we grow up and they don’t seem to have the ‘ick’ factor for people, like flies and spiders do. I’ve also always been a fan of the Beatles. My parents…

Kate Bush and the mongoose: character displacement and release

When my sons look back on their childhoods they will likely remember many things. Lots of cricket. Great holidays in the Catlins full of boogie boards and board games. Our big old house that could hold as many friends as they cared to bring home. And too much Kate Bush. As…

Know thy self, know thy enemy: white clover chemical warfare versus grass grub herbivory

In the fifth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series,  Douglas Adams described the universe as being “a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it’s pretty damn complicated in the first place“. Ecological interactions between species was probably the furtherest thing from…

Messages from the burning bush – seeking PhD applicants for research on plant flammability

Fire is one of the most pervasive and significant ecological disturbances worldwide. Wildfires are likely to become more frequent and/or severe in the future in many parts of the world due to climate change. To help understand the effects of fire on ecosystems or human infrastructure it is important to…

Tolkien made me an evolutionary biologist

I’ve been an evolutionary biologist for over two decades now and I have been reflecting recently on how I came to join this profession. I started re-reading Stephen Jay Gould’s Ever since Darwin, Goulds first collection, and have to acknowledge that Gould’s amazing essays played a role as an undergraduate. Darwin’s…