A glass half full of fungi: Something to wine about

  At anytime of the day or night, you can be sure that someone somewhere is enjoying a glass of fruity Sauvignon Blanc, an oaky Chardonnay, or a full-bodied Pinot Noir (Fig. 1). Yes, wine.     This all-time beverage of choice for ancient Romans, aspiring sommelier’s and your average…

Sitting on the Fence: Are Predator-Proof Fences a Solution to New Zealand’s Biodiversity Challenges?

Only about a third of New Zealanders are concerned about their country’s species, while most of the public believes that native animals and plants are in a good state. In a way, it does make sense to think that New Zealand’s biodiversity is doing well. The country has a rich…

Balancing the risks and benefits of biological control

Biological control against introduced pests in New Zealand have been used constantly since the late 19th century. However, it is much harder to introduce new agents now due to regulations set by the New Zealand Governments Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), previously known as the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA). Biological control…

Summer success for ballooners: spiders take the high road

New Zealand is renowned for the changes that have been wrought on it by humans.  First by Maori, then by Europeans.  One of the long term changes created by Maori have been the tussock grasslands of Canterbury, Southland and Otago.  The local fauna have adapted and created their own ecosystem.  Over the…

The invasion of Californian Thistle (and how to fight back!)

Since 1878, the dreaded Californian thistle has caused mayhem throughout New Zealand farms! It is very problematic to the country’s pastoral farming systems, costing close to $700 million each year. The invaders have been subjected to a continuous battle with herbicides. This has been an effective, if costly, method of control…

Caring for the invaders: How bad are botanic gardens for nature conservation?

What Granny loves to have flowering colourfully in her front-yard, might drive conservation biologists into despair. But why should they be so concerned? Isn’t a plant a plant, a flower a flower, the more colourful, the better? Conservation biologists put plants into two different categories: native and non-native. The non-native species…

Habitat invasion in the Southern Alps: why no forest-orcs in Middle-earth?

I guess I was always destined to spend my life in evolution and ecology. I distinctly remember from an early age, as I read through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, worrying about the orcs. Not whether they are scary and nasty, that was a given, but rather how they…

Why wasps and bees hover over cabbage plants

I grew up in a rural Papua New Guinea village, cared for by my grandpa as my parents were separated. Following the old man daily to his garden, I noticed he had a diversity of food plants from root to tuber crops, from more traditional to introduced vegetables (self-pollinating and vegetatively propagated). Maturing in…

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…

On the value of collections: pinning down the answer

All around the world, natural history collections are under a major threat. This major threat comes not from ravenous specimen eating beasties, or changes in the ethics of collecting specimens with the insidious infiltration of the idea that a mixture of DNA and photography can be as good as a…