Behavioural ecology analyses the evolutionary context of animal behaviours associated with adaption to environment and applies this knowledge to species conservation.
Massey University researchers are investigating the impact of capture, captivity and handling, human contact, rehabilitation and relocation on the behavioural patterns, survival, reproduction rates and ongoing welfare of wildlife, with a focus on New Zealand native wildlife.
Conservation and ecological genetics
Expertise in understanding the biological significance of genetic traits, their contribution to ecological performance and the regulatory networks that control their expression. We use population genetics (multi-locus markers, DNA sequence data, cytogenetics) to assess the conservation status, genetic diversity and evolutionary potential of populations.
We create statistical tools for ecological applications, including models of ecological systems, species’ abundances, biodiversity and community ecology. We engage in active field-based ecological research, and consulting for environmental monitoring and impact assessment.
We do pure and applied research on the biological, physical and chemical characteristics of inland water bodies. We focus on river, stream and lake fauna, and how we can maintain or enhance that fauna in the face of rapidly expanding human demand for freshwater.
Marine biology and ecology
This area of research examines the function of organisms and their interactions in natural systems. . Our diverse expertise spans biogeography, evolutionary biology, population ecology and conservation biology of marine flora and fauna inhabiting intertidal, estuarine, coastal, and oceanic realms.
Marine evolutionary ecology
Our research investigates the evolutionary and ecological processes that determine the structure of populations and communities. We use a range of quantitative genetic and population genetic/genomic techniques in combination with field experiments to address questions on population connectivity, local adaptation and the distribution of genetic diversity in natural populations, using marine invertebrates as our subjects.
Molecular and evolutionary ecology
Our research investigates the evolutionary and ecological processes that determine the structure and functioning of populations and communities. We use genetic/genomic tools in combination with environmental DNA sampling, field surveys, and experiments to address questions on population connectivity, local adaptation, trophic interactions, and the distribution of genetic diversity in natural populations and communities.
Plant-animal interactions and chemical ecology
Our research aims to understand the chemical mechanisms underlying ecological interactions in New Zealand's endemic, native and endangered species. We apply this knowledge to the development of sustainable agricultural methods and the conservation of vulnerable species and their habitats. We also explore the dynamics of invasive species and their effects on the native flora and fauna.
We study the adaptation of plants (natives and exotics), their communities and vegetation types to environmental stresses. We also research the impact and management of invasive plant species.
Our research focuses on soil communities and ecosystem function: i.e., the role of soil invertebrates in soil health and productivity; the impact of land-management practices on soil invertebrate biodiversity; the ecology of threatened soil invertebrates; and soil ecological patterns in relation to abiotic gradients.
We are integrating science and data management solutions to effectively manage and conserve New Zealand’s natural resources, including studying the spatial distribution and movement of marine, fluvial and coastal environments and species, and modelling the effect of human actions on the environment.
Find programmes with a research element, including the PhD.
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Coral reef bleaching
Dr David Aguirre, a Massey marine ecologist is helping to uncover the ways the world’s coral reefs could survive in the face of rising global temperatures. Coral bleaching is having devastating effects on coral reefs around the world. The study, led by the Australian Museum is hoping to understand how reefs will respond to climate change and show us where our best efforts to preserve reefs lie.
Developing a traffic light system for river health
Funded by Vision Mātauranga. Partnership with Ngāti Whatua o Karipara
Professor Russell Death was awarded $100,000 from the MBIE Vision Mātauranga fund to develop with Ngāti Whatua o Karipara a traffic light coloured (Figure ; red = poor, green = good) internet map of Kaipara river health. This will allow marae, interest groups or individuals to easily explore the health of their local sites and potential reasons for its current condition upstream. In turn this will hopefully identify management actions for improvement.
First male of stick insect species discovered
The first male of a New Zealand stick insect species has been discovered – in the UK.
A male stick insect of Acanthoxyla inermis has never been seen before, although the species is common in much of New Zealand. All Acanthoxyla species use parthenogenetics to reproduce, which means that the females lay viable eggs without the need for fertilisation by a male. No males of any Acanthoxyla species have ever been recorded until this specimen was found.
Identification of a rare gecko from North Island New Zealand, and genetic assessment of its probable origin
When a new gecko was discovered in a mainland island reserve, a cross-university team, led by Massey's Associate Professor Mary Morgan-Richards and including Professor Dianne Brunton and Associate Professor Weihong Ji, used genetic tools to determine that it was a species previously thought to be completely restricted to offshore islands. The research found that the species has likely survived on the North Island at very low population densities since predators were introduced by humans around 800 years ago.
Migratory decisions and performance in bar-tailed godwits
The longest non-stop, non-feeding migratory flight of any bird is undertaken by the bar-tailed godwit – 10,000km from New Zealand to Asia. Their return journey from Alaska is over 11,500km.
Associate Professor Phil Battley used satellite telemetry to document this flight. Postgraduate students have been focusing on various elements of this extraordinary journey to learn more about how individual godwits schedule their migrations, stopover ecology in China and the molecular basis for individual godwit migration timing.
Monitoring pest control
Funded and supported by: DOC, Vision Mātauranga, OSPRI and Ngāti Rangi
Massey scientists are working with local iwi on the environmental monitoring of the use of 1080 in the Tongariro region.
This a two-year project to develop an understanding of the impact of this toxic bait on both the target species (possums, rats and stoats) and on the natural environment. Dr Simon Hills and Professor Murray Potter are the Massey leads on the project, which is setting up the baseline for a longer-term project (ten years) around Mt Ruapehu to assess the ongoing impact of the poison.
Recognition of birdsong
A key challenge with monitoring birds is their elusiveness in the wild. This makes it difficult to accurately estimate populations. Recordings of bird vocalisation is an effective method, but requires a huge amount of time in analysis.
The AVIANZ project is developing automated birdsong recognition system software. This decreases the time commitment to analysis, while increasing accuracy. The work received an $880,000 grant in the 2017 Marsden Funding round. This project is a collaborative piece of work between Massey’s behavioural ecology and engineering groups. Find out more about the project and hear native bird calls.
Secret sex lives of stick insects
Massey University researchers have discovered more about the sexual lives of stick insects in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
The research draws from two papers led by Professors Mary Morgan-Richards and Steve Trewick of Massey’s School of Agriculture and Environment. The papers discuss stick insects from Taranaki heading over to the United Kingdom, New Zealand stick insects rediscovering sexual reproduction and the male stick insects’ inability to tell the difference between asexual and sexual females through scent.
Research has discovered that tui have a language with over 400 syllables. The discoveries came during a broader project to identify strategies for effectively managing tui habitat in our expanding urban environment. As well as identifying over 400 syllables, related research recorded 373 distinctly different songs in 2.4 hours of audio recordings.
Unravelling the mystery of the snakes of Galapagos
Partner: Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD)
This research is working to better understand the diversity of snake species on the Galapagos Islands and the evolutionary relationship between these species and snakes on the South American continent.
Up until now, records of snake species on the islands have been sporadic and often reliant on museum species. Led by Massey's Dr Luis Ortiz Catedral, the work aimed to identify how many species of snakes exist in Galapagos and to update the conservation status of each species.
The team has collated the most comprehensive dataset on morphology of live snakes from Galapagos ever seen.
Research centres and groups
Behavioural Ecology and Conservation Group
This group works to promote and implement collaborative science/mātauranga Māori-based research involving scientists, Māori/hapu/iwi, community groups, and landowners, that leads to the development of wildlife management techniques to support New Zealand conservation efforts.
Innovative River Solutions
The Innovative River Solutions Centre is a hub of expertise on river catchments and provides integrated solutions for the management of New Zealand’s dynamic river systems.
We have staff with expertise in several of the science disciplines within river catchments.
Massey University Reptile Facility
The Reptile Facility on Massey’s Auckland campus consists of an outdoor area with 18 lizard enclosures, as well as an indoor unit with quarantine and experimental laboratories. It provides opportunities for research, teaching and conservation-focused activities involving New Zealand native lizards. It also hosts a captive breed-for-release programme for Duvaucel’s geckos. More than 140 lizards reared in the facility have been successfully released in association with local biodiversity restoration initiatives and as part of a long-term research programme that investigates the establishment success of translocated populations in different environments.
New Zealand Indigenous Flora Seed Bank
The New Zealand Indigenous Flora Seed Bank (NZIFSB) aims to collect the seeds of New Zealand flora, to conserve the biodiversity within New Zealand’s indigenous flora. Seed banking is a recognised conservation strategy to support in-situ conservation efforts.
Palynology is the science of pollen. It brings together aspects of geography, earth science, plant biology and ecology.
Massey operates a world-class palynology laboratory for pollen analysis, where we have developed the Classifynder, a holistic automated pollen imaging and classification system.
Bug identification service
Massey scientists provide a bug identification service. Email us with your enquiry.
Wildbase Hospital is New Zealand's only dedicated wildlife hospital. We provide a nationwide service and are at the forefront of veterinary care of New Zealand’s native birds, half of which are classified as threatened or endangered.
Guide to NZ Orthoptera
Research material on taxonomy, ecology and evolution of New Zealand wētā and other orthoptera such as stick insects, grasshoppers and crickets.
Guide to New Zealand soil invertebrates
Information on New Zealand soil and litter invertebrates, their diversity, biology, ecosystem role, and conservation status.
Invertebrate DNA Toolkit
As well as information on aDNA, transformational sequencing and next gen sequencing, data files from various projects relating to the DNA of invertebrates can be downloaded here for free.
Wild Life New Zealand - book
Authors Steve Trewick and Mary Morgan-Richards explore the biology of New Zealand from the perspective of evolutionary ecology. The unconventional style informs in an accessible way about New Zealand species, their interactions and their origins. Recognisable focal plants and animals form the starting point in each chapter highlighting a different type of creature and different biological processes.