Black-fronted terns, Potemkin villages and Catherine the Great

As an evolutionary biologist I am interested in the history of life and how it got to this wild, crazy biodiverse natural world. I am also interested in history in the more usual sense, how we got to this wild, crazy and diverse human world. Sometimes these interests intersect. Another…

Keeping Happy Feet: The keys to breeding success of the white-flippered penguins

Over the hill and not too far away you can find the charming seaside town of Akaroa. With its rich Maori, French and British colonial history, stunning views and relaxed atmosphere this is a popular location for locals and tourists alike. For the more relaxed visitor, there are numerous restaurants…

The leopard, the which? and the wardrobe

There are very few lions in New Zealand. Or leopards. Or tigers. In fact, the only big cats that we have are, well, big cats. Once, when I was about 10, three circus lions escaped in the small town of Lawrence, not far from where I grew up. Or you…

The Kauri killer and the three soil types — Looking for answers underground to stop a deadly fungus in its tracks

This past February, I saw my first kauri tree. I had just arrived in New Zealand from the United States and was moving into my office at Lincoln University. There was a small potted plant on my officemate Alexa’s shelf, which was labelled with the name tag “Eric”. Eric seemed…

Insect: Endgame

With a snap of our fingers, humans have doomed 40% of the world’s insects. Move over Thanos there is a new villain in town. A newly published international report found that 40% of the world’s insects are declining and could be extinct in a few decades! This collapse in the…

The pest question: this is why you’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties

“So, what do you do?” It’s a common question that we often ask when meeting people for the first time, usually at parties or social events. For the last year or two I get a sinking feeling when I’m asked this. I usually know where it will end up. “So,…

A weevil of Earthsea: Finding the true name for the fourth beetle

“For magic consists of this, the true naming of a thing.” A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula le Guin Names are important. Without names, things are just stuff. With names, things are individuals. Individuals have pasts, they have futures. We can care about named things. When it comes to biodiversity,…

Don’t wait for gaint eagles: Tolkien’s solution when all seems lost

Tolkien was a literature scholar and had some interesting ideas about stories and the world. One of these ideas was that of the ‘eucatastrophe’. A criticism of Tolkien’s work is that sudden unlooked for events provide happy outcomes when all seems lost. Giant eagles rescue the heroes from likely death and…

Romeo and Juliweta: kissing cousins or rival families?

Romeo and Juliet. Star-crossed lovers from two feuding families. What makes this story so epic, and such a tragedy, is that the Capulet and Montague families are such bitter enemies. The star-crossed lovers have it all in front of them if they want love to triumph. They might ask themselves…

What did you eat today?

For most people its a difficult and uncomfortable subject but what if I told you that I could figure out where you’ve been and what you’ve eaten based only on your poop. That’s right I said it, poop. So, yeah there may be a nicer way to say it, such…