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2018 department seminars

Seminars are usually held on noon on a Wednesday at 42 Union Street West. Please confirm the location information for each talk in case of a venue change. 


3rd October

Dr David Chagné

Science Group Leader, Molecular & Digital Breeding, Plant and Food Research, Dunedin, and Department of Biochemistry, University of Otago

Genome analysis of mānuka’s uniqueness

Mānuka is a well-known bush shrub that grows across many ecosystems in New Zealand. To date only one species of mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium) is recognised in New Zealand. Species of Leptospermum are also found in South East Australia (Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania), including species currently considered as L. scoparium. However, the taxonomic characterisation of mānuka is still the subject of debate and the only current knowledge of genetic diversity is through the study of terpene compounds in the foliage.

A full genome assembly of the mānuka genome was recently developed, encompassing 297 Mb in total and scaffolded into the expected 11 pseudo-chromosomes of the family Myrtaceae. These 11 pseudo-chromosomes are syntenic to the related Myrtaceae model species Eucalyptus grandis. We used whole genome pooled re-sequencing of mānuka and kānuka (Kunzea ericoides) to identify genome-wide DNA variants differentiating local provenances within New Zealand and between New Zealand, and Australian related species. Maori stakeholders from the New Zealand mānuka honey industry were involved in planning, coordinating and undertaking the research. Maori landowners were individually approached and informed about the objectives of the research prior to collecting samples.

The privilege of access to the trees was then granted (or not) by them to the research team for collection of samples for DNA analysis. My presentation covers genome-wide variant detection and identification of mānuka provenances using these variants.

Wednesday, October 3rd, 12.00pm. Betts Workroom, Union Street Lecture Theatre, Union Street West


The 17th Annual Geoff Baylis Lecture - Dr Janice Lord

Hosted by the Botanical Society of Otago in conjunction with the Department of Botany.

Wednesday 26 September I 6:00pm – 7:00pm, Castle 1 I University of Otago.

Reweaving species: The role of interactions in ecological restoration, Dr Janice Lord Department of Botany, University of Otago.

Recent years have seen increasing community interest in native replanting projects, typically using container grown native species that are easy to propagate.

However, establishment can be patchy and maintenance becomes an issue. A growing trend overseas, “rewilding”, focuses on restoring natural interactions between species and allowing ecological processes to determine outcomes. Could “rewilding”, or other process based approaches work in New Zealand?

This talk explores concepts and approaches to restoration, drawing on experience with the QEII National Trust Mahu Whenua covenants, Otago Lakes District, and other innovative restoration projects, against the background of the 1 Billion Trees government initiative.

Postgraduate talks

19th September - Yuta Ogawa, Tom Pearson, Madeleine Post, Department of Botany

Postgraduate talks

12th September - Zoe Lunniss, Alex Charlton, Andrew Douglas, Department of Botany

Postgraduate talks 

Four of our postgraduate student have talks, scheduled for Wednesday, September 5th, 12.00pm in the Betts Workroom, Union Street Lecture Theatre Building, Union Street West. All welcome.

Karri Hartley
Postgraduate Diploma in Science (Botany), Historical botany of the 1874 French Transit of Venus Expedition to subantarctic Campbell Island.

Jessica Fitzgerald

BSc Honours (Plant Biotechnology), Can saline priming increase the bioprotective capacity of sprouts?

Joshua Rich

Postgraduate Diploma in Science (Plant Biotechnology), Progress in understanding changes in availability of actinidin in kiwifruit extraction.

James Crofts-Bennett

Postgraduate Diploma in Science (Botany), Spiders as bioindicators of vegetation complexity on a greenroof


Dr. Soledad Perez Santangelo

Department of Biochemistry, University of Otago.

Post-transcriptional regulation of circadian rhythms in plants. 

Circadian rhythms allow organisms to adjust biological processes to occur at the most appropriate time of day. They are controlled by a complex gene network, called the central oscillator, in which genes interact mainly by transcriptional feedback loops keeping an approximate 24h rhythm. Growing evidence supports the importance of post-transcriptional regulation as a key step for the correct oscillation of the clock. We showed that core components of the spliceosome and mRNA decay machinery contribute to the fine-tuning of circadian rhythms in plants.

Wednesday, August 22nd, 12.00pm, Betts Workroom, Union Street Lecture Theatre, Union Street West

Dr. Shannon Clarke

AgResearch, Invermay, Dunedin.

Delivering genomic solutions to New Zealand's Biological Economy

To enhance the value, productivity and profitability of the New Zealand biological economy, AgResearch has developed a suite of genomic tools. In addition to developing a suite of SNP array based genotyping tools, AgResearch has also invested in genotyping by sequencing (GBS) methods, both targeted and restriction enzyme based. For restriction enzyme based GBS, combining low-depth sequencing with algorithms that produce bias free genomic relationship matrices we can estimate: breed composition, pedigree, traceability, inbreeding and co-ancestry as well as using directly in existing mixed models (GBLUP) to estimate breeding values. In addition, further developments for GBS analysis has established methods to undertake GWAS, linkage mapping, estimation of linkage disequilibrium and derivatives such as the effective population size, Ne. I will present the development and implementation of genomic tools in the NZ livestock, forage and aquaculture industries, which have been extended for use in genetic diversity studies.

Wednesday, August 1st, 12.00pm, Betts Workroom, Union Street Lecture Theatre, Union Street West.


Kevin Sheridan

PhD candidate, Department of Botany

Distribution of the Photosystem II D1 protein family in cyanobacteria

Oxygenic photosynthesis evolved only once in an ancestral cyanobacterium, the prokaryotic precursor to chloroplasts, and has remained conserved throughout its subsequent evolution between cyanobacteria and higher plants. The first step in this process requires the oxidation of water producing electrons, hydrogen ions and molecular oxygen. This water-splitting reaction is catalysed by Photosystem II (PS II), a multi-subunit protein complex. D1 is a core protein of PS II and is susceptible to light-induced damage as a result of the oxidative chemistry of water splitting. Consequently, sustained photosynthetic activity requires the rapid degradation of damaged D1, and the synthesis of new, replacement copies. Cyanobacteria contain multiple types of D1 which are upregulated in response to a variety of environmental and physiological conditions. These different members of the D1 protein family may help to fine-tune photosynthetic activity. Many aspects of these processes remain to be fully elucidated, as such expanding our knowledge of these mechanisms will enable us to better understand the responses of cyanobacteria to their environment in both the past and present as well as facilitating predictions of future adaptation. Here, I will present current knowledge on the distribution of the D1 protein family in cyanobacteria along with the presentation of two putative novel groups within the D1 protein family. This information provides insights into lineage specific losses and gains of different photosynthetic responses and suggests future directions of study within this field of research.

Wednesday, July 25th, 12.00pmBetts Workroom, Union Street Lecture Theatre, Union Street West


No scheduled talks.


Esther Dale

PhD candidate, Department of Botany

Lineage diversification in relation to biomes: within or across biome boundaries?

Diversification of lineages from one into multiple species is a key evolutionary process for generating biological diversity, but the role of biomes in facilitating speciation is controversial. Both niche conservatism and biome shifts have been promoted as critical mechanisms for lineage diversification. My research focuses on where and how diversification of lineages occurs, and evaluates the importance of trait, biome and niche shifts in speciation. I assess whether diversification primarily occurs within or across biome boundaries, the frequency and timing of biome shifts in relation to initiation of novel biomes, and how traits evolve in relation to biomes occupied.

I will explore this question using the hyper-diverse Australian Acacia, NZ Poaceae and three woody NZ lineages: Melicytus, Myrsine and Pseudopanax. My approach combines evolutionary modelling, Species Distribution Modelling, phylogenetic analyses, and trait data. Diversification was accompanied by frequent biome shifts in all my focal lineages. There was clear partitioning of traits within biomes and biome shift frequencies were more closely related to clade size than any other clade or biome characteristic. Biome shifts are integral to adaptation of lineages to a range of habitats and appear to be more influential than biome niche conservatism during lineage diversification at a range of scales.

Wednesday, May 30th, 12.00pm Betts Workroom, Union Street West

Taylor Davies-Colley, Grace Lim and Cara-Lisa Schloots

Taylor Davies-Colley, MSc Candidate, Botany, ‘Investigating the decline, and uncertain future of the unique threatened plant, Utricularia australis’
Grace Lim, MSc Candidate, Plant Biotechnology, ‘Genome Instability in Cyanobacteria’
Cara-Lisa Schloots, MSc Candidate, Botany, ‘Wetlands of Mahu Whenua’

Wednesday, May 16th, 12.00pm, Betts Workroom, Union Street Lecture Theatre, Union Street West

Tennant Lecture - Dr Peter de Lange

24th May Botany Tennant Lecture Dr Peter de Lange, Conservation & Biodiversity, Unitec Auckland

Archway 2, 6.00-7.00pm

More information 

Ian Geary

PhD candidate, Departments of Geology & Botany, University of Otago. 

Fossil plant and fungal floras of Auckland’s Pliocene

A remarkable suite of plant and fungal fossils of late Pliocene age (Waipipian, 3.7 to 3.0 Ma) have been collected from sites near Auckland. Fluvial, estuarine and near-shore sediments of the Tauranga Group have yielded a remarkable diversity of fossils, including fruits, seeds, vascular and non-vascular leaves, wood, amber, pollen, spores, fungi, mites and other arthropod fragments. The specimens are mostly organically-preserved and retain fine details such as leaf cuticle, fungal-spore ornamentation and endocarp/cone cellular patterns that complement their macro-morphology.

Globally uncommon fossils are preserved in these sediments, such as bracket fungus basidiocarps and highly distinctive moss gametophytes. Fossil fruits, seeds and cones form an informative component of the vascular flora. Interestingly, most of these fossil ‘fruits’ share affinities with locally extinct groups, such as Vitaceae, Menispermaceae, Casuarinaceae, Brassospora-type Nothofagus or represent locally extinct genera/taxa of Cupressaceae and Elaeocarpus, although several morphotypes do share possible affinities with extant species of Prumnopitys, Passiflora and Elaeocarpus.

The fossil plants in these sediments provide an unparalleled glimpse into the species living in northern New Zealand near the end of the Pliocene, a time when temperatures were warmer than today, prior to the climatic fluctuations of the Pleistocene.

Wednesday, May 2nd, 12.00pm, Betts Workroom, Union Street Lecture Theatre, Union Street West


Sophie Fern

PhD Candidate, Department of Botany, University of Otago.

Does non-human charisma affect conservation decisions in New Zealand?

The term “charismatic megafauna” has been used in the conservation literature since the mid 1980’s to signify a creature that has a quality, or qualities, that makes it attractive to humans. That an organism is valued for its charisma does not, however, mean that it has any extraordinary ecological value. A charismatic animal will be a popular choice for conservation, but conserving it, especially when resources are limited, may not be the best choice to ensure positive outcomes for whole ecosystems.

This project is investigating the role of non-human charisma in conservation decisions in New Zealand, focusing especially on the role of the public. Although charisma in humans has been widely studied, charisma in the non-human, a term that includes animals, plants and ecosystems, has been examined more sporadically. The literature on non-human charisma is scattered across disciplines and there has yet to be work that measures non-human charisma and then investigates links to national conservation decisions.

Wednesday, April 11, 12.00pm, Betts Workroom, Union Street Lecture Theatre, Union Street West


Anna Sher

Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Denver.

Causes and consequences of exotic tree removal in riparian zones of the Southwestern US

Ecological restoration of river systems in arid regions of the United States often include large-scale efforts to remove invasive exotic Tamarix spp. trees. Several species of Tamarix were introduced to western U.S. states during the 1800’s from the Middle East and Asia as a wind-break, stream-bank stabilizer, and ornamental; Tamarix is now the third most common species along rivers in these regions. Invasion by Tamarix is associated with elevated salinity, increased wildfire risk, lowered water tables, and altered plant and animal communities, however there is debate regarding whether removal of the trees has any hope of returning these ecosystems to their former state. Of particular concern and interest is the impact of a biological control insect, Diorhabda spp, that has been successfully defoliating Tamarix trees at a much higher rate than had been predicted when it was first released in 2003. By analyzing plant community data from more than 200 sites across the southwestern U.S., we have been able to identify several environmental and management factors that explain when and where removal by both the bio-control and traditional methods results in “successful” restoration. Our current NSF-sponsored research involves deeper exploration of the human component by using multivariate analysis of data from surveys of the land managers to better understand whether the attitudes and backgrounds of the people doing the restoration matters for outcomes. Our ultimate goals are to improve ecological restoration in arid lands while illuminating more general principles about the impact of anthropogenic activity on ecosystems.

Wednesday, March 28th, 12.00pm, Betts Workroom, Union Street Lecture Theatre, Union Street West

Professor Sher's profile.

Janneke Hille Ris Lambers

Walker Endowed Professor of Natural History, University of Washington, Seattle.

Forest Community Assembly in Response to Climate Change

Predicting how climate change will influence the plants and animals with which we share our planet is one of the most challenging problems ecologists face. Climate is often assumed to be the dominant force governing species distributions, which leads to the prediction that all species will simply shift their ranges poleward and upward as the planet warms. Locally, plant communities should therefore lose cold-adapted species, while warm-adapted species increase in abundance. However, species differences in climate sensitivity, geographically variable rates in warming, slow generation times and dispersal limitation will all add significant complexity to these simple predictions, as will many other factors. A major research goal of the HilleRisLambers lab is to explore these complexities with observations, experiments and modeling. In this talk, I will present some of our most recent work disentangling the many processes that will influence how coniferous forests Mt. Rainier National Park (Washington State, USA) and beyond will respond to climate change.

Wednesday, March 14th, 12.00pm, Betts Workroom, Union Street Lecture Theatre, Union Street West

Professor Hille Ris Lamber's profile.


Richard Gill

Professor, Department of Biology, Brigham Young University, Utah, USA. 

On the Ecology and Evolution of Dehiscence in NZ Tussock Grasses

New Zealand tussock grasses are unique in their overexpression of the trait leaf abscision. This has generated lively debate over why this trait is common in the New Zealand environment but effectively absent from the rest of the world. Using tools of niche modeling, plant physiological ecology, phylogeography, and experimental studies, we explore potential hypothesese about the conditions that lead to the expansion of dehiscent grasses in two genera--Chionochloa and Rytidosperma.

Wednesday, February 28th, 12.00pm, Betts Workroom, Union Street Lecture Theatre, Union Street West

Professor Gill's profile.


No talks scheduled for January