Author Archive

Annual Report 2023

Monday, May 13th, 2024

PDF file, 2.59 MB

Step into the pages of our 2023 Annual Report, marking the third chapter in our mission to develop the next generation of bioprotection leaders through novel research.

We embark on a journey of self-reflection, reviewing our successes and acknowledging our challenges as we pursue our vision. Continuously seeking opportunities for improvement, we ensure we navigate in the right direction.

In the area of ecosystem health, we share stories of our efforts to deepen our understanding of landscape resilience to emerging threats in the Wairarapa.

But our narrative extends beyond research—it encompasses the individuals whose career pathways are shaped by their journey with Bioprotection Aotearoa. Through their own accounts, we share their success as they have stepped into their next phase of their career development as bioprotection leaders.

Our 2023 Annual Report is a shared journey, where you’ll discover stories that illustrates our enduring commitment to shaping a future where environmental resilience is not merely a goal, but a tangible reality.

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When Weeds Unite

Tuesday, May 7th, 2024

Diana Borse pulling out brush wattle

What happens when you mix woolly nightshade (Solanum mauritianum), brush wattle (Paraserianthes lopthantha), and tree privet (Ligustrum lucidum) with native plants from Aotearoa New Zealand?

You might think it’s a weedy good time, but Diana Borse, a PhD student from the University of Auckland, is delving into the intricate world of weed ecology to find out. She’s investigating how these weeds interact with native plants in our natural ecosystems.

Despite the stigma often associated with weeds, Diana sees an opportunity to explore their ecological roles and interactions. “Understanding the background of weed invasion in Aotearoa New Zealand, I saw an opportunity to delve deeper into their ecological roles and interactions,” says Diana.

In the field of weed ecology research, there has been limited studies investigating the coexistence of multiple weed species. Diana adds “most studies focus on single weeds, but in reality, land managers deal with multiple species.”

Methodical Approach: From Field to Shade House

To investigate the patterns of co-occurrence among these weeds, Diana is using both real-world fieldwork and controlled shade house experiments, aiming to identify signs of facilitation or competition among plant species.

“I conduct circular plots around specific weed species to assess their impact on surrounding vegetation,” Diana explains. “These 4m2 circular plots, are centred around mature weed species such as woolly nightshade, tree privet, or brush wattle.”

For comparison, Diana pairs each weed plot with a mature native species, to understand the impact of the site versus the specific plant species. “I measure attributes such as canopy cover and litter depth, to account for environmental factors influencing plant growth.”

From 180 plots measured, preliminary data analysis has already revealed emerging patterns, particularly regarding the influence of brush wattle on the presence of other weeds.

“Brush wattle shows a higher proportion of weed seedling beneath its canopy than native or woolly nightshade centred plots.” This emerging pattern has Diana hypothesising that there might be some facilitation going on.

“Brush wattle is a nitrogen fixer, so it could be adding nitrogen to the system, facilitating grown and establishment for the riskier weeds.”

Diana adds that more data is required to validate whether this pattern is actually causation rather than correlation. “Combining this emerging pattern with our shade house experiments, could show something really interesting”.

Diana’s shade house experiment includes 1000 plant specimens.

Shade House Experiments

Diana’s shade house experiments have been designed to explore the intricate dynamics between weeds and native species with a focus on determining whether their interactions yield additive or non additive effects.

Under carefully controlled conditions, Diana has planted the different combinations of weed species alongside native plants, aiming to understand the nuanced dynamics of their coexistence in these experiments.

The native plant Diana is using is Mānuka, sourced from Pourewa nursery of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. Her methodological approach involves monthly measurements of plant growth, assessment of soil conditions, and monitoring each species.

Diana’s research also extends beneath the surface, looking at the root systems, analysing samples to decipher mycorrhizal colonisation, and soil interactions.

The shade house experiments are conducted in two phases, beginning with the growth of Mānuka seedlings in the presence of various weed combinations. Simultaneously, Diana is growing another batch of Mānuka plants in pots with different weed combinations, to prepare for her next phase of experiments.

“After the first shade house experiment ends, I’ll then remove one of the weeds and then keep them growing to see how that affects the remaining Mānuka and then also the remaining weeds.”

Managing a total of 1000 plant specimens, Diana faces challenges including pests, transplant issues, and the survival of brush wattle.

“Brush wattle has been a nightmare. I’ve collected probably 1,500 brush wattle at this point to have 200 surviving.” Seeking advice, Diana has actively managed this issue by adjusting her potting mix, selecting different collection sites of weeds, and proactively replacing weeds which have died.

Data Analysis and Potential Impacts

As part of her broader research efforts, Diana is analysing Auckland Council data on weed occurrences in residential areas bordering reserves. This analysis provides insights into the spread of these weeds and the effectiveness of current management practices.

“So, by combining fieldwork with the analysis of the dataset from the Auckland Council, we aim to develop more effective strategies for managing invasive plant species like brush wattle.”

With her PhD expected to end by September 2025, Diana’s research is well on its way to making significant contributions to both scientific knowledge and environmental management practices.

By clarifying the mechanisms driving invasive species dynamics and proposing evidence-based management solutions, her work promises to enhance ecosystem resilience and promote biodiversity conservation in Aotearoa New Zealand.

More Information

To learn more about Diana’s research, visit The interactions of co-occurring weeds and their impacts on native plants

Kicking off the Summer with our Scholar Ben McDonald

Wednesday, January 10th, 2024

Ben McDonald, joins our recent intake of Summer Scholars for 2023-2024

Embarking on a journey of scientific discovery, Bioprotection Aotearoa is thrilled to welcome four promising young minds as our Summer Scholars for the 2023-2024 period.  Beyond the realm of academia, Ben McDonald finds inspiration in the great outdoors.

Sports and outdoor activities are his go-to outlets, with a particular passion for surfing and hiking. “I love sports and getting involved in any outdoor activities. I don’t have one particular niche, but currently enjoy surfing and hiking in my spare time,” Ben shares.

Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Environmental Science (Honours) at the University of Canterbury, Ben shares a passion for tackling the critical issues surrounding climate change. Majoring in Environmental Change, his academic journey is guided by a profound desire to contribute innovative, research-based solutions to the environmental challenges of our time. “I aim to gain sufficient knowledge and experience to progress into a career where I can tackle some of the pressing issues underlying climate change, with innovative and research-based work,” Ben expresses.

Part of delving into science for Ben, is the allure that lies in being part of the rapidly advancing world of scientific discovery. “Working in the science industry provides opportunities to be a part of the rapidly advancing world, which I find exciting,” they explain. However, Ben also emphasises the societal importance of their chosen path – the chance to contribute to environmental preservation and sustainability.

“Preserving our environments and operating in a sustainable way is necessary for moving forward into the future,” Ben says, highlighting the broader collective benefits that come from the pursuit of scientific knowledge in New Zealand’s unique landscape.

“Joining a diverse team of academics spanning various specialities, and translating the knowledge gained from my studies into practical application,” Ben shares.

The prospect of bridging the gap between theory and real-world application fuels Ben’s eagerness to contribute to the impactful work happening alongside Bioprotection Aotearoa.

Ben will be working alongside Dr John Ramana zooming into the forest canopies around Aotearoa New Zealand.  Learn more about John’s research in Understanding the drivers of plant health.

Stay tuned for updates as we follow our Summer Scholars journey with Bioprotection Aotearoa.


Research Outputs 2023

Sunday, December 31st, 2023

Adobe Acrobat PDF file, 274 KB

A full list of research outputs in 2023

Download here >

Interactions between bacteria and phages

Tuesday, November 28th, 2023

Phage force unleashed: Sarah de Roode and Dr Nils Birkholz from the University of Otago exploring the fascinating world of bacteriophages and their potential for disease management.

There are viruses out there, called bacteriophages or just phages, which specifically target bacteria. Nils is interested in the interactions between bacteria and phages, especially how bacteria protect themselves against these intruders. If researchers understand how bacteria defend themselves against phages and what the phage response to this defence is, this fundamental knowledge could contribute to the development of treatments for human or plant diseases.

Bacterial immunity is mediated by different defence systems, each of which is made up of one or more proteins that function in a specific way. For example, many of these proteins cut the DNA of an invading phage into pieces, thereby hindering it from replicating.

How exactly this is achieved can vary drastically between different systems. So far, scientists have identified many bacterial defence systems, but only a few of them have been examined in detail. Recent research also suggests that there are many more defence systems out there.

Phage infecting bacterium

Nils is aiming to identify and characterise such new systems by working with a collection of bacterial strains from the Pectobacterium genus that includes pathogens responsible for significant agricultural losses due to their ability to infect a variety of crops. Nils supervised Sarah de Roode, a visiting Masters student from the Netherlands, who already made great contributions to this work.

“We are infecting the bacterial strains with various phages to identify resistance patterns that might point to the presence of immunity. This can then potentially be traced back to a defence system. If we find any previously unknown systems, we would like to gain a detailed understanding of how it works to stop the phage from replicating or infecting,” says Nils.

From a fundamental perspective, researchers know that bacteria have a massive impact on global processes such as nutrient cycles and therefore all ecosystems. Hence, everything that affects bacterial fitness and survival is of immense importance – especially for phages, given that they outnumber bacteria by about ten-fold.

Phages are being trialled as a means of pest control in agriculture. Many important crop plants such as potatoes, apples and kiwifruit are vulnerable to infection by pathogenic bacteria, and using phages to eradicate these pests is one possible solution.

Nils says “In a country like Aotearoa New Zealand which relies heavily on agriculture, this use of phages is particularly interesting. If we know how bacteria defend themselves against phages and what the phage response to this defence is, we are better prepared to develop treatments for human or plant diseases.”

More Information

To learn more about Nil’s research, visit Fighting crop pathogens with viruses

Te Maramataka o Te Whānau ā Apanui

Saturday, July 1st, 2023

Featured from left to right: Matetu Herewini Jnr, Nicola Sullivan, Hanareia Ehau-Taumaunu, Rangitahi Wharepapa, Matetu Herewini, Amanda Black and Meikura Arahanga

It is Tangaroa Whāriki Kiokio, the ninth day after the full moon, and Bioprotection Aotearoa feels privileged to attend a wānanga at the headquarters of the Raukūmara Pae Maunga Project in Te-Kahanui-a-Tikirākau, also known as Te Kaha. Matetu Herewini, local Rūnanga chair, extended the invitation to this event.

During the wānanga, the Bioprotection team listened to Matetu Herewini Jnr, the son of Matetu Herewini, as he shared his knowledge about the Maramataka of Te Whānau ā Apanui.

Through waiata (songs), information sharing, and engaging activities, Matetu Herewini Jnr introduced the Māori lunar calendar and its significance to the Iwi.

The Raukūmara Pae Maunga Project, is an iwi-led conservation group that has received $34 million to heal and restore the mauri (life force) of the Raukūmara Ranges. These ranges lie in between Ngati Porou and Te Whānau ā Apanui. When the funding was announced, the two iwi and Te Papa Atawhai (DOC) collaborated to design and execute a restoration plan over the next three years.

The aim of the wānanga was to provide insights and mātauranga (knowledge) that could assist the local group in their restoration project.

By integrating this traditional knowledge with modern restoration techniques, the local group hopes to enhance their efforts and ensure that the restoration project aligns with the cultural values, environmental sustainability, and long-term goals of the Iwi.

Amanda Black, the Director of Bioprotection Aotearoa, says, “It was an absolute privilege to learn about this mātauranga, and be introduced to an extraordinary kaupapa with an Iwi-led vision. The Raukūmara Ranges feed into Te Uruwera and Whirinaki forests, which are all connected to form the largest continuous primary growth forest in the North Island. This taonga deserves a restoration response that is designed to transcend generations.”

Aligned PhD student Nicola Sullivan (Plant & Food Research) is doing fieldwork in Te Kaha, researching spiders.  While listening, Nicola made the connection to how the moon phases could have an impact on her own research.

“We learned about moon phases during which insects and spiders, among other things, hide away and aren’t as visible. When I am out hunting for spiders, I am likely to find fewer spiders during that moon phase,” says Nicola. “I think it will be helpful to record the moon phase during which I do my collections, in a similar way to the way I already note down the weather which has an effect. This could help explain any patterns I see.”

Amanda shares, “As part of our whakawhanaungatanga, the experience sparked a refreshed  sense of purpose. I can see an alignment of our vision and values between the Raukūmara Pae Maunga Project and Bioprotection Aotearoa and the work we each do.  We are grateful for the opportunity to be welcomed into their space and enrich our understanding of the rohe.”

To learn more about the Raukūmara Pae Maunga Project, visit their website >

Mānuka and Kānuka Shrublands

Saturday, July 1st, 2023

Postdoctoral Fellow Laureline Rossignaud

Laureline Rossingnaud (Pou 3.2) has published her first manuscript as a postdoctoral fellow, which is now available in Diversity and Distributions, a journal of conservation and biogeography.

Her scientific paper titled Native vegetation structure, landscape features, and climate shape non-native plant richness and cover in New Zealand native shrublands shares exciting insights into the impact of vegetation structure, landscape features and climate on non-native plant invasions across Aotearoa New Zealand in mānuka and kānuka shrublands.

Drawing from the National vegetation survey dataset surveyed between 2009 and 2014, Laureline analysed 247 permanent 20×20 meter plots distributed across Aotearoa New Zealand.  She measured the number of native and non-native plant species and their coverage at ground, understory and canopy levels.

As part of her study, she used generalised additive models (GAM) to analyse variables that had the potential to influence the richness and cover of non-native species. These variables included climate, native species richness and ground cover in relation to vegetation structure, and how landscape features surrounding these shrublands influence the arrival and establishment of non-native plant species.

This study indicates that the presence of human-made land cover in the surroundings of sample plots favour the arrival and establishment of non-native plant in mānuka and kānuka shrublands, whereas high number of native tree species and canopy cover provides resistance to plant invasions.  It highlights the value of examining both the coverage and richness of plant species at the different vegetation levels.

Although Laureline has published papers before, this is her first publication as a postdoctoral fellow.

“It’s not easy to explain that feeling when you publish a paper…excited, accomplished, and a boost of motivation to do more.” – says Laureline

Read her paper here >

Horomaka/Banks Peninsula Community Hui 2023

Friday, June 30th, 2023

Horomaka community members gather to explore resilient landscapes through informations sharing.

Meaningful engagement and multidisciplinary collaboration took centre stage at a recent gathering that brought together Bioprotection Aotearoa researchers, farmers, conservationists, and mana whenua from Horomaka.

Hosted by Bioprotection Aotearoa in Canterbury, the event aimed to cultivate stronger connections among researchers, the community, and their environment. Its overarching goal was to advance the cause of healthy and resilient ecosystems for the benefit of future generations.

Amanda Black, Director of Bioprotection Aotearoa, began the event by outlining the vision, values, and Kaupapa of the national Centre of Research Excellence. She expressed gratitude to the Horomaka community for the valuable opportunity to exchange knowledge and insights.

“The value of introducing ourselves, connecting researchers and the community, and fostering relationships cannot be underestimated” –  Amanda Black

The community heard from early career researchers who are working on understanding what makes soils resilient, future weed invasions, drivers of plant health, restorative farming practices, and adaptation pathways.

Each topic discussion reiterated the immense potential that lies in collaborative efforts spanning various disciplines and knowledge systems.

“Reaching across disciplines together, we can achieve greater outcomes that strengthen people and their environment,” Amanda emphasised.

The gathering provided a forum for participants to actively engage in dialogue, exchange ideas, and explore innovative approaches to bioprotection.

Driven by their commitment to the wellbeing of the land and future generations, community members actively participated, raising thought-provoking questions, and offering insights.

Deputy Director Phil Hulme reflected on the alignment of Bioprotection Aotearoa’s scientific efforts with the concerns of landowners and other stakeholders about emerging weed issues.

“At Bioprotection Aotearoa we have already begun to consider these emerging weed issues and the potential impact on their distributions of climate change and thus it is good to know that our science is aligned with end-user concerns.” Phil reflected.

“The landowners that I spoke to were particularly impressed by the breadth of the work being carried out on Horomaka and the enthusiasm of our early career researchers.”

Reflecting on the conclusion of the meeting, Amanda remarked, “Building deeper relationships of a collaborative nature, embracing māturaka Māori and scientific knowledge, is crucial in achieving sustainable solutions for our productive landscapes.”

She expressed a shared sense of purpose among researchers and the community, with a commitment towards continued engagement.

Insight into the effectomes of Phytophthora cinnamomi isolates

Thursday, June 22nd, 2023

Masters Student Alexandra Cox, examining her samples

Alexandra Cox’s ultimate goal is to contribute to finding solutions that will protect native plants and agricultural crops from a devastating pathogen called Phytophthora cinnamomi. Her recently completed Masters of Science with distinction at the University of Canterbury is her first step to understanding how that might be done.

P. cinnamomi belongs to a group called the water moulds, or oomycetes, which Alex describes as “a weird one on the tree of life”. Although not well understood, oomycetes are similar to fungi in many ways, but they are most closely related to algae.

P. cinnamomi is closely related to the pathogens that caused the Irish potato famine and kauri dieback disease. However, unlike these host-specific pathogens, this oomycete causes root rot or dieback in more than 2,000 plant species.

The pathogen is a huge agricultural problem in Australia, as well as 70 other countries around the world. It is becoming an increasingly serious pest in Aotearoa New Zealand, especially as the climate warms  and increases the amount of suitable environments or habitats.  Native plants of Aotearoa New Zealand are particularly vulnerable, as are agricultural crops like avocados, and forestry species. Once it has infected an area, it is very hard to eradicate.

In an effort to control P. cinnamomi, scientists are trying to understand at the genetic level how the pathogen infects its hosts, so that they can develop ways to disrupt the infection pathways. P. cinnamomi is a parasitic endophyte, which starts in the root cells and spreads through the entire plant.

Alex is searching for insights one tube at a time

To gain access to the cells, the pathogen releases proteins called effectors, which help stop the host from detecting the pathogen and make it safe for the pathogen to enter. The host plant, in turn, evolves defences against the effectors, forcing the parasite to adapt in response. This ‘evolutionary arms race’ means the pathogen and host are constantly co-evolving in a fight for survival.

An important question with P. cinnamomi is how it can keep this arms race going, when it infects such a wide range of hosts. Alex is hoping that by comparing the pathogen’s genetics in different hosts, and specifically identifying its effectors, she will gain clues to help solve this puzzle.

This is a complex challenge, however, because there are hundreds of different effectors, many of which are redundant or expendable. Also, P. cinnamomi may use different effectors on different host species, which makes it extremely adaptable.

Luckily, recent advances in genetic technology have made it easier to sequence large quantities of genomic data. Alex obtained organisms from SCION, and then extracted her P. cinnamomi DNA.   She did all of her own gene sequencing on a tiny machine about the size of a matchbox. In less than a year, she was able to sequence 10 new genomes from P. cinnamomi living on the roots of pine, kauri and fir to see how they compare. The sequences will be published online and will be a really useful tool for other researchers investigating this pathogen.

Alex plans to continue this research in her PhD, improving her sequencing even further and eventually creating a phylogenetic tree of P. cinnamomi genomes. Ultimately, she hopes to classify the pathogen’s effectors and explain what each one does.

She says, “I am so grateful for Bioprotection Aotearoa’s funding” and that she is now “more connected to other scientists than she’s ever felt.” She also enjoyed getting to learn more about science communication, cultural awareness, and “how science works in real life”.

“I have a cohort that’s been really valuable, and I’ve enjoyed learning about what’s going on at other universities and in other areas of science, from people of all ages and from all over the world. I really value these relationships and will keep them going in my PhD.”

Queenstown Research Week 2023

Tuesday, June 13th, 2023

This two day event will delve into the multidisciplinary approaches aimed at fortifying the resilience and resistance of our productive ecosystems in the face of diverse biological threats driven by climate change.

Sessions will explore themes of conservation, invasion genomics – impacts and control, persisting pathogens, and the social science behind valuing our landscapes.

Leading experts will join us to discuss the concept and application of Indigenous methodologies, intellectual property, and data sovereignty in research.

Whether you are early in your career, or a seasoned researcher, there will be a session to explore what a career in bioprotection looks like in this current research climate.

In collaboration with Genomics Aotearoa, and their Indigenous Genomics Platform, we are proud to showcase the power of holistic approaches that span ecological, molecular, Indigenous knowledge and socioeconomic sciences, within a cultural values framework.

This event will highlight how these comprehensive strategies can offer fundamental solutions for the sustainability of the primary sector, which is integral to providing economic, social, and environmental wellbeing for Aotearoa New Zealand.


Programme | Day 1 | Thursday 31st August

Session 1:

Hungry for advice: breakfast, posters and career advice for a career in bioprotection

Organised by Dr Steve Wakelin, SCION

Session 2

Concept and application of indigenous methodologies, intellectual property and data sovereignty in research

Organised by Prof Amanda Black (Tuhoe, Whakatōhea, Te Whānau ā Apanui), Lincoln University

A panel discussion featuring

  1. Linda Tuhiwai Smith, (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Porou, Tuhourangi)
  2. Stacey Whitiora (Ngāti Mahuta ki te Hauāuru, Waikato)
  3. Lynell Tuffery Huria (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāruahine)
  4. Melanie Mark Shadbolt, (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Ngāti Porou, Te Arawa, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Te Ātiawa)

Click here for information about speakers

Session 3:

Partnering with communities to conserve our taonga species

Organised by Dr Nathan Kenny, University of Otago

Session 4

Invasion genomics, impact and control

Organised by Prof Ian Dickie, University of Canterbury

Programme | Day 2 | Friday 1st September

Session 1

Valuing our landscapes

Organised by Ann Brower, University of Canterbury

Session 2

Microbiomes in landscape

Organised by Dr Hanareia Ehau-Taumaunu (Ngāti Uepōhatu, Ngāti Porou, Te Ātiawa, Te Whānau-a-Āpanui, Ngāpuhi), Plant & Food Research

Session 3

Preventing the persistence of pathogens and pests

Organised by Prof Matt Templeton, Plant & Food Research

Session 4

Tackling i4: integration, interdisciplinarity, implementation & impact

Organised by Dr Franca Buelow, University of Canterbury