Update: A condensed version of this post is published on Newsroom.co.nz here.
We may be alone. Our planet could be the only place in the universe where, over billions of years, matter became aware of itself. Despite the dazzling variety of life on Earth, all living things are united by the genetic material inside our cells–our DNA. These blueprints trace their own genealogy through all living species to converge at a single point in the ancient past. How do we make sense of the cellular machinery inside a single-celled bacteria, the cooperation within a colony of fungus-farming ants, and the camouflage abilities of shape-shifting squid? Perhaps a more pragmatic question: how do we ensure the survival of these plants, animals, fungi, and microbes on which our own survival depends?
We are only able to catalogue, classify, and understand living things on our planet because of the scientific discipline called taxonomy. Taxonomy is both the foundation of biology, and one of the most important collective achievements of biologists. And yet the funding, resources, jobs and prestige associated with this work have slowly eroded, so today we can see the bones underneath. Taxonomy is important, so we need to understand the challenges it faces before we me might nurse it back to health.
Brown marmorated stink bug is a serious horticultural pest native to East Asia. It damages crops, infests ornamental plants, and seeks out shelter over the winter causing massive problems for homes and businesses. Fortunately we don’t have it in New Zealand yet, but in order to keep it out we need to know what it looks like. In this post I show you how to tell it apart from other New Zealand stink bugs.
Ever seen a weird creature and wanted to know more about it?
iNaturalist is a citizen science project and online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe. The iNaturalist platform is supported by the California Academy of Sciences based in San Francisco. New Zealand has its own version of the iNaturalist platform called iNaturalist NZ — Mātaki Taiao. Our local version is run by the New Zealand Bio-Recording Network (NZBRN), a charitable trust led by a team of NZ ecologists and biodiversity IT professionals.
Our local version provides a Kiwi window into iNaturalist that shows just the New Zealand observations. That way your fantails and totara observations don’t get lost in a flood of squirrels and bald eagles!
You can upload photos of any organism from the mobile app (or from your digital camera onto the website) and you’ll be connected with experts who can help to identify what you’ve seen.
Heres a quick overview of how to use iNaturalist.
What A Month!
I intended to publish the first post on my recently-refreshed website much sooner than today. The delay is due to being caught up in a surge of media interest over a Harry Potter themed species description that formed part of my masters research.
It all started back in August when my first ever scientific article was published in New Zealand Entomologist…