Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives

It’s a Friday night in Invercargill for eastern moa during the Ice Age

Nic Rawlence May 11, 2022

In the depths of winter, most people from southern New Zealand head to warmer climes for a much-needed dose of Vitamin D. Yet during the height of the last Ice Age, one species of moa did just the opposite.  I’m reminded of Bill Bailey’s En Route to Normal tour that visited Dunedin last year where he was performing one of his … Read More

From the smallest of bones come the biggest of secrets

Nic Rawlence Apr 04, 2022

Ask any museum curator if you could destroy the only known bone of a diminutive extinct animal for genetic research, and the answer, once the curator had regained their composure…well, I’ll leave that one to your imagination. Walk into the behind-the-scenes collection at any museum in Aotearoa New Zealand and you’re immediately drawn to the big things, whether that’s … Read More

The long night: how the Ice Age drove blue-eyed shag evolution

Nic Rawlence Mar 28, 2022

The first snow had started to settle on the bare ground. Soon the shag will have to make a choice. Should it stay to battle the elements and potentially face death during the long night, or attempt a perilous journey to find a new home? By the time sea-ice surrounds its craggy island, creeping up from the south like an … Read More

The dog is in the henhouse: did the kurī (Polynesian dog) have an impact on New Zealand’s wildlife?

Nic Rawlence Dec 16, 2021

The hunter stalks its prey through the forest, following the wafting invisible trail of musky odor straight to the kiwi burrow. Within a few months, the dog has killed over 20 kiwi. You would think this event occurred recently, given the frequent headlines of dogs killing or attacking our unique wildlife, or the feral dog populations causing … Read More

The mystery of the moa: did these feathered giants call Rakiura Stewart Island home?

Nic Rawlence Nov 15, 2021

The scientists shield their eyes from the howling wind and flying sand as they carefully uncover the precious skeleton. If it wasn’t for the absence of giant sandworms, this could have been a scene straight out of Dune. Alex Verry and Matt Schmidt are on Rakiura Stewart Island at West Ruggedy Beach excavating a significant taonga, a moa skeleton. Surrounding … Read More

The little frog with a big legacy

Nic Rawlence Nov 11, 2021

In the bowels of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the little frog waited. In 2005 scientists had released its bones from its sediment tomb on the banks of the Waipara River in North Canterbury. The discoverers – Bruce Marshall, Phil Maxwell, and Al Mannering – had carefully collected the tiny bones that remained and deposited them in … Read More

Resolving a genetic mash-up: reconstructing an accurate evolutionary history of kākāriki

Nic Rawlence Sep 10, 2021

Prioritising species conservation and over-stretched government funding is built upon an accurate understanding of evolutionary relationships and taxonomy. But what if that evolutionary history is wrong? More importantly, what are the consequences for endangered biodiversity as conservation funding and resources are re-assigned? Numerous examples have come to light in recent years where genetic techniques have shown previously recognised endangered or … Read More

Out of the fire and into a mad world: How human arrival in New Zealand resulted in a flightless insect

Nic Rawlence Aug 22, 2021

When most people think of the consequences of humans arriving on an isolated island paradise, it wouldn’t be making an insect flightless. Most people would think about the rapid extinction of biodiversity and environmental modification that inevitably follows human arrival. In Aotearoa New Zealand this includes the sad loss of the giant megafaunal moa, pouakai Haast’s eagle, and … Read More