Nic Rawlence

Dr Nic Rawlence is a Lecturer in Ancient DNA in the Department of Zoology at the University of Otago. He is also the Director of the Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory. Nic did his undergraduate degree and Masters with Honours at Victoria University, and PhD at the University of Adelaide. He then worked at the University of Waikato and the University of Otago, where he established the Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory. Nic's research focuses on using ancient DNA, palaeontology and palaeoecology to reconstruct past ecosystems, how these prehistoric ecosytems were affected by human impact and climate change, and how this knowledge can improve conservation management of New Zealand's unique biodiversity. Nic is on Twitter @nic_rawlence_nz and tweets for @Zoology_Otago.

Hiding in plain sight: how we found New Zealand’s newest seabird, the Kōhatu Shag - Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives

Aug 14, 2017

New Zealand was once a land of birds. A bustling and cosmopolitan metropolis of different species that had evolved in isolation until the arrival of humans. Scientists thought we knew the characters that made up this enigmatic ecosystem of a time long past, but we were wrong. Hiding in plain sight, in fossil deposits throughout Northland, and natural history collections, was an entirely new species of seabird, the Kōhatu Shag, albeit sadly extinct. This research has just been published in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution and included collaborators from the Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory (University of Otago), Arizona State University, Birds New Zealand, Auckland Museum, Canterbury Museum and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Since Victorian times, natural historians have been describing our living birds, differentiating species based on their plumage, behaviour, distribution and the shape of their … Read More

Introducing the Poūwa: New Zealand’s unique and ill-fated black swan  - Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives

Jul 26, 2017

Step inside a TARDIS and travel to prehistoric New Zealand and the landscape looked very different. Moa roamed the forests, Haast’s Eagle soared in the sky and you would have met a very tall, heavy and potentially grumpy swan. This is the Poūwa – New Zealand’s newest species discovered by my team (published today in Proceedings B) including collaborators from the Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory (University of Otago), Canterbury Museum and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. But how did we get to this point? Poūwa skeleton. We know a lot about how prehistoric human impacts on megafauna have dramatically reshaped ecosystems worldwide. However, we know comparatively little about the impact of human exploitation on smaller species. Anatids (ducks, geese and swans) are one such example. This diverse group of birds (150 species in 40 genera), featured in medieval carvings and Roman mosaics, has a long history of human exploitation, with their bones found in archaeological middens (rubbish dumps) worldwide New Zealand represents the ideal location to test for the human impacts on Anatids. These islands were settled very late … Read More