Current research

Information on our current research and collaborators.

Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fast Start - First come, best served? The role of generalist and specialist species in the assembly, diversity and productivity of ecosystems

Interactions among species underpin ecosystem function. The solutions to many pressing problems such as invasive weeds, biodiversity loss and the conservation of endemic species in a changing climate, all hinge on the processes that lead species to form communities. Communities form as species disperse into new habitats and begin to interact with other species. Surprisingly, we have a poor understanding of how the dispersal or arrival of a species relates to its ability to interact with others. This gap limits predictions of how changes in biodiversity will affect ecosystem productivity. Using networks of plants and their symbiotic fungi, cutting-edge ecological theory, and DNA sequencing technology, we will reveal how the characteristics that determine species arrival to a new habitat relate to their abilities to interact with other species. We will then determine the consequences of the formation of species interactions for ecosystem productivity for the first time. Our research is likely to generate novel solutions to a range of pressing problems encountered on farms and within New Zealand’s conservation estate.

2016 | Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fast Start, $300,000, “First come, best served? The role of generalist and specialist species in the assembly, diversity and productivity of ecosystems


Jason Tylianakis, University of Canterbury

Martin Hartmann, Swiss Federal Research Institute

Warming and Removal in Mountains (WARM) and the Future of Our Taonga Tipu

New Zealand is experiencing high rates of anthropogenic climate change relative to the global average. This interacts with weed invasions to threaten our taonga flora and fauna of fragile alpine environments. Interactions between plants and soil microbes will play key roles in determining the biodiversity and resilience of terrestrial ecosystems as climate warms. We belong to the first global collaboration of research sites (10 sites in 10 nations) with common experimental methods to assess the effect of warming and species interactions on alpine ecosystems. The study employs small greenhouses to warm soil and air and manipulations of the plant community at 2 sites in Togariro National Park. Our work will provide critical information for the conservation of the iconic desert-road ecosystems under anthropogenic climate change, and quantify ecosystem carbon balance for improved climate models.

2016 | Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Vision Matauranga Capability Fund, $115,000 “The Future of Our Taonga Tipu”


Aimee Classen, University of Vermont

Hollei Gabrielsen, Ngati Rangi

Wetlands for People and Place: achieving maximal restoration outcomes for wetland forests

Wetlands are among the most valuable ecosystems in the world. Hotspots for endemic biodiversity, water purification and carbon sequestration as well as places of significant cultural and recreational value, wetlands provide up to 40% of global renewable ecosystem services. Sadly, they are in peril. New Zealand has lost more than 90% of its historic wetlands with those remaining among the nation’s most degraded ecosystems. However, there is growing interest in restoring our taonga. Our research addresses restoration ecology at both local and landscape scales. Locally, we examine the roles of plant-mycorrhizal network facilitation in improving plant establishment and restoration outcomes for a freshwater wetland on the shores of Lake Wairarapa. Together with our collaborators, we use Mixed Methods GIS (MM-GIS) to identify synergies of values and outcomes and to predict the impact of restoration activities on a wide range of ecosystem services at the landscape scale. The approach allows us to identify novel and optimal methods for restoration that will simultaneously increase biodiversity, water quality, carbon sequestration and cultural and recreational benefits in the Wairarapa basin. Outcomes of this research have the potential to transform wetland management and restoration ecology practice in the future in New Zealand.


Stephen Hartley

Mairead de Roiste

Bethanna Jackson

Quality control of environmental DNA sequencing studies

A key aim of the ‘Our Biological Heritage’ challenge, identified as one of New Zealand’s 10 most pressing National Science Challenges, is to generate a national framework for biodiversity assessment based on environmental DNA sequencing. eDNA technologies are powerful, sensitive and cost efficient but like all methodologies come with inherent biases. In particular, it can be difficult to estimate the abundances of taxa in eDNA samples. Together with our collaborators, we are quantifying these biases for different taxonomic groups and environmental substrates (e.g. soil, sediment, water). This information will provide critical decision support to New Zealand’s land managers.


Robert Holdaway, Landcare Research

Gavin Lear, University of Auckland

Hannah Buckley, Auckland Institute of Technology