Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Tennant Lectures

The annual Tennant Lecture is named in honour of Professor John Smaillie Tennant (1865-1958), Botany lecturer in the then Biology Department, University of Otago and benefactor to the Botany Department.

All welcome.

2020 – Associate Professor David Orlovich – The evolution of truffle-like fungi

When: Wednesday 7 October 2020, 6:00pm–7:00pm

Where: Archway 1 Lecture Theatre, Union Street East

Hundreds of species of fungi, from at least three fungal phyla, have independently evolved to mimic the ecological habit of truffles, and are hence called truffle-like fungi. They share the feature of not releasing their spores for wind dispersal. Rather they rely on animals to search out and eat the fruit bodies, and then disperse the spores via their dung. The evolutionary drivers for the success of the truffle-like fungi are thought to be either selection for dispersal by animals, or through the increased drought resistance that the truffle-like habit confers. New Zealand has a special place in the world of truffle-like fungi, being home to many brightly coloured species that might be attractive to birds and other animals. Associate Professor David Orlovich will showcase the tremendous diversity of truffle-like fungi in New Zealand, outline the ongoing work to understand the biology of the truffle-like habit, and explore the roles of truffle-like fungi in New Zealand’s forest and grassland ecosystems.

The lecture will be live streamed at:

Lecture poster

Previous Tennant Lectures

Wednesday 14 August, 2019

Professor Angela Moles

Rapid Evolution in introduced species: Will introduced plant species eventually be accepted as unique native taxa?

In moving thousands of species to new parts of the world, people inadvertently followed a near-perfect recipe for encouraging evolution of new species. Seventy percent of plant species introduced to Australia underwent significant morphological change following introduction, and reproductive isolation may develop between introduced and source populations. If we can’t eradicate introduced species then inevitably they will evolve into unique new taxa. Should we accept these as new native species or try to exterminate them? I think acceptance of introduced species is a matter of time, but I have been called a witch for these ideas — bring on the arguments!

Lecture poster

Thursday 24 May, 2018

Dr Peter de Lange

What’s in a name? The politics of plant systematics

Globally Biosystematics is a dying science.

In New Zealand there have been repeated calls for the Government to reinvest in biosystematics. Despite these calls investment in taxonomists, and the necessary career pathways for them to flourish continue to decline. As a result, we are losing not only our indigenousbiodiversity but our hold on the nations biosecurity. This is affecting our global reputation as leaders in conservation management, as well as our overall image of being ‘clean and green’. Further, as current science funding is competitive the potential for collaboration is lost – at a time when collaboration is increasingly recognised as the key to modern science discovery. In this climate the public is at the mercy of a beguiling level of ‘misinformation’ that would impress even the most devout moon-landing conspiracy theorist. Despite these trends and issues, globally with the advent of molecular systematics, electronic databases and high speed email communication there has been a rapid shift to competing ‘global’ flora classification schemes and databases which New Zealand has duplicated at a national level. With all these systems comes the need to decide on what names we are going to use for our Flora and the requirement for ‘nomenclatural stability’. Yet in the competitive world of science funding there is also increasing pressure to ensure that funded outputs meet ‘end users’ needs. As taxonomists this is usually demonstrated by the uptake of the names we provide. Increasingly there is a vested interest in ensuring one’s taxonomy is adopted.

I contend that this ‘need’ is seriously damaging the reputation of the very science we feel is so important. The question then is whether there truly is an objective pathway to decide what names we use in this country?


7th August, 2017

Dr Patrick Brownsey
Research Fellow at Te Papa.

A social history of the fern in New ZealandPatrick's lecture will discuss the role of the fern in the social history of New Zealand, and outline some of the reasons why it has achieved iconic status. From his experience as both Curator of Botany and Curator of Stamps at Te Papa, he will show how knowledge and understanding of New Zealand ferns was developed by early voyages of discovery and immigrant botanists, and how social fashions and frenzies influenced scientific understanding of New Zealand ferns, especially in the second half of the 19th century. The talk will be illustrated with material held at Te Papa and from a personal collection of ephemera.



11th August 2016

Professor Philip Hulme
Bio-Protection Research Centre, Lincoln University.

From ornamental to detrimental: the causes and consequences of the invasion of New Zealand by non-native plants

New Zealand has more types of non-native plants than almost anywhere in the world.

Many of these species pose significant economic and environmental costs yet all signs point to the problem growing in the future.

Using our recent research as background I explore the history of plant invasions in New Zealand and examine the underlying causes and potential future trends. Some of these invasive plants have been introduced as commercial crops such as pine and pasture grasses, and some have come in as ornamentals from around the world.

While new imports are screened at the border, New Zealand faces a threat from the 30,000 or so varieties already grown here in our gardens and sometimes it takes up to 100 years before the invaders jump the garden fence and become a problem.

In this talk we’ll explore the many tools available to control future threats, looking at the role of botanic gardens in both the spread and management of invasive weeds, and consider how both the government and public can be more effective in preventing and controlling the plant invaders.


7th October 2015

David Bowman
School of Biological Sciences, University of Tasmania

Humans and fire in Australian food webs from the Pleistocene to the Anthropocene

There is much debate about the causes and consequences of the recent extinctions in uncleared Australia landscapes. Several theories have stressed the importance of changed fire regimes following the breakdown of Aboriginal land management and the introduction of non-native herbivores and carnivores. Some theories also highlight the legacy effects of the initial impact of Aboriginal colonisation in the late Pleistocene, including the extinction of very large marsupial herbivores and carnivores, collectively known as ‘megafauna’. While manipulating fire regimes, humans must simultaneously manage mammalian food webs, possibly by introducing new species to compensate for the extinction of herbivores and carnivores that have occurred in the recent and more distant past.



11th September 2014

Professor Paula Jameson
Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury

The ABCs of Flowering of Three Iconic New Zealand Species.

This talk will cover several aspects of research on pohutukawa, kowhai and kakabeak, three New Zealand species with spectacular flowers and increasingly threatened status. Flower parts (sepals, petals, stamens and carpels) form in a specific order defined by particular genes. I will show how our species conform to the ABC model of flower development as established by the simple model species. With reference to kakabeak, I will then show how molecular data can be used to assist in conservation efforts of critically endangered species. Finally, I will discuss why some of our spectacular flowers do not make good cut flowers.



Speaker Dr Ross Bicknell
Senior Scientist and Team Leader, Plant and Food Research

Seeds without sex: Revisiting Mendel’s nemesis

In the middle of the 1800’s Gregor Mendel was unraveling the mystery of genetic inheritance. His experiments on the garden pea are now well known and he is rightly cited as the father of modern genetics. Carl Nägeli, a leading Swiss botanist of the day, appears to have suggested that Mendel use another species to confirm the universality of his findings. The plant he suggested was Hieracium, a genus of daisies common throughout Europe. What neither Nägeli nor Mendel could have known is that Hieracium forms seeds without sex (apomixis). Try as he might, Mendel could never get this plant to act like pea! This lecture will follow Mendel’s efforts, then explore our current understanding of the reproductive uniqueness of Hieracium. In a grand irony, Mendel’s nemesis has become a model for a process that specifically departs from the normal pattern of inheritance.



18th Steptember 2012

Professor Lesley Hughes
Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Australia

Climate change in Australasia: Challenges, Risks & Gaps?

This talk will cover the latest global and Australasian trends in observed and projected climate change, and identify the key risks these changes pose for Australia & New Zealand. The similarities and contrasts between how Australian and New Zealand scientists and policy makers are approaching potential future challenges will also be discussed and important research gaps highlighted.



20th July 2011

Associate Professor Mike Pearson
School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland

The Pacific: emerging plant virus diseases of vanilla and other crops

Look at any crop in the Pacific Islands and you are almost certain to find viral diseases. However, our knowledge of plant viruses in the Pacific Islands is still very limited and surveys continue to produce new species records for the country or region and even detect completely new virus species. Many of the important crops in the Pacific are vegetatively propagated and in these virus infections are perpetuated from generation to generation, often resulting in multiple infections. The lecture will discuss the importance of plant virus diseases in the Pacific Islands and specifically review our research on vanilla, and kiwifruit. Prior to the mid 1980’s very little was known about viruses of vanilla, we have now identified 10 different virus species worldwide, largely as a result of work initiated in the Pacific Islands. A similar situation exists with Kiwfruit for which prior to 2003 there were no definitive virus identifications of viruses. Since 2003 several different virus species have been identified from imported germplasm in quarantine, raising important questions about the international movement of Actinidia germplasm.


21st July 2010

Peter H. Raven
President Emeritus Missouri Botanical Garden

How many species will survive the 21st century?

Scientists project that during the 21st century a major proportion of the world’s estimated 12 million species of plants, animals, and micro-organisms will become extinct.

What can we do to counteract or mitigate the effects of habitat destruction, global climate change, invasive species, and selective hunting and gathering? attain a level human population, adopt reasonable levels of consumption everywhere develop new, sustainable technologies. Direct actions to conserve species - establishment and protection of nature reserves bringing organisms into cultivation, captive colonies, culture collection, or seed banks.

Our individual actions will determine the magnitude of the extinction episode that we have already begun – and its impact for thousands or millions of years to come.



1st October 2009

Professor Brett A Neilan
School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, The University of New South Wales
One man’s toxic algae is another man’s medicine

21 August 2008

Professor John A Raven
University of Dundee, Scotland

12 July 2007

Professor George Gibbs
School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand
Ghosts of Gondwana – Do they really exist?

14 September 2006

Professor John Beardall
School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Australia
Living in a high CO2 world: impacts of global climate change on aquatic ecosystems

19 October 2005

Dr Michael Heads
Lecturer, University of the South Pacific, Fiji
Coffee, tea and the goddess of eternal youth: Some thoughts on the New Zealand flora

5 July 2004

Dr Sylvia Earle
Marine Biologist, Consultant, Explorer-in residence at the National Geographic Society, Chair of the Sea Change Trust and President of the Deep Ocean Exploration and Research Inc.
Sustainable Oceans: The vision; the reality

18 September 2003

Associate Professor Laurie Melton
Director, Food Science Programme, Department of Chemistry, University of Auckland
Why fruit and vegetables are good for you

4 March 2002

Professor Vladimir Onipchenko, Professor of Geobotany
Moscow State University, Moscow and William Evans Visiting Fellow, University of Otago
Plant interactions in alpine communities of the NW Caucasus mountains of Russia

28 May 2001

Dr David Penny
Institute of Molecular Biosciences, Massey University
Is Darwinian evolution sufficient?

26 September 2000

Dr Ross Beever
Landcare Research, Auckland
Phytoplasmas, a new threat to New Zealand plants

14 June 1999

Professor Mary T Kalin Arroyo
Department of Biology, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile
Sustainable management of indigenous beech forests: the Chilean Río Cóndor experience

29 September 1998

Dr Wendy Nelson
Curator, Botany, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington
Forgotten forests of our coasts – macroalgal biodiversity in New Zealand

25 September 1997

Professor Jamie Kirkpatrick
Geography Department, University of Tasmania
Cushion heath to herbland – the landscape ecology of Australian alpine vegetation and its relationships to New Zealand alpine ecology

11 March 1996

Professor Rudolph Schuster
Cryptogamic Laboratory, Massachusetts, USA
The evolution of liverworts in New Zealand

14 August 1995

Professor Alastair H Fitter
Department of biology, University of York, United Kingdom
Why plant root systems look the way they do

15 April 1994

Dr David Bellamy
Dept of Continuing Education, University of Durham
No place to fly: an itinerant botanist’s view of a world in crisis

20 September 1994

Dr Peter Wardle
Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research NZ Ltd, Lincoln
New Zealand treelines – comparisons with the southern Andes

13 September 1993

Dr Edward Newman
School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol
Phosphorus: the ultimate limitation to life on earth

14 September 1992

Professor Larry Bliss
Department of Botany, Washington State University, USA
Mount St Helens: studies in ecosystem survival and recovery

29 July 1991

Dr David Given
Botany Institute, DSIR Land Resources, Lincoln Agriculture and Science Centre, Canterbury
Crisis or delusion: the challenge of conserving biological diversity for the 21st century

30 July 1990

Professor Errol Hewett
Leader of post-harvest research group, Department of Horticultural Science, Massey University
New Zealand horticulture: international success demands post-harvest research

12 September 1989

Dr Les Molloy
Director of Advocacy and Extension, Department of Conservation Central Office, Wellington
Soils as a basis for land use in the New Zealand landscape

14 March 1988

Dr Andrew Agnew
Department of Botany and Microbiology, The University College of Wales
The ecological nature of edges in landscape

7 September 1987

Dr Brian Butterfield
Plant and Microbial Sciences Dept, Canterbury University, Christchurch
The three dimensional structure of wood

8 September 1986

Dr John Ogden
Department of Botany, University of Auckland
Tree architecture, forest structure and regeneration in New Zealand forests

15 April 1985

Dr Dan Cohen
Plant Physiology Division, Department of Scientific and Industrial research, Palmerston North
Plant tissue culture from Haberlandt to the space age

26 June 1984

Dr Peter Wardle
Botany Division, D.S.I.R., Lincoln
Timberlines – a look at the upper limits of tree growth in New Zealand and abroad, and the ecological patterns that determine them

30 August 1983

Dr David Galloway
Botany Dept, British Museum (Natural History), London, United Kingdom
The New Zealand Lichen Flora and its Relationships

September 1982

Dr Eric Godley
ex-Director, Botany Division, DSIR, Lincoln
Seed plants of New Zealand: Structure and Function

14 September 1981

Associate Professor Patricia A Werner
William Evans Visiting Fellow, Michigan State University, USA
The biology of plant populations

22 July 1980

Dr Neville Moar
Botany Division, D.S.I.R., Lincoln
Pollen analysis and changing patterns of vegetation in New Zealand during the last 25,000 years