Biological Sciences - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Biology Newsletter

Newsletter 400

4 April 2017

Who would have thought, after 400 newsletters we're still going strong. To commemorate the 400th issue I have dug out some of our good times over the past 10 years.

April 2007

"Look, it's a spoon worm!" - 2007

Classy footwear - 2007

SBS celebrating five years - 2008

The Three Monkeys - 2008

Cass cricketers - 2008

Young Sam Hickford who was player for a day - 2009

Selwyn's new office after the quake - 2011

Its all about the gloves - 2011

Christmas in the Atrium - 2012

Matthew takes the plunge and becomes a Kiwi - 2013

The Lads - April graduation 2013

The morning crew having to have their cuppa in the Atrium - 2013

Graeme and his passenger - 2013

Personal earthquake protection system trialled - 2013

Richard getting close to the PM at the official sod digging of RSIC - 2014

The FERG lads - December graduation 2014

378 field trip to Blue Duck Reserve - 2015

Kenzie meets a Prince - 2015

Pink leggings and Socks with jandals - Loud shirts 2015

Origami expert takes up weaving - 2015

The Braindeers at Quiz night - 2015

Angus & Fergus - 2016

Bill(y) goat and Gavin goat - 2016

Christmas lunch - 2016

MERG vs FERG mo's - 2016

Farewell to Gavin Tisch

The school gave a fond farewell to Gavin on Friday 31st March.

For the past four years he was the school's purchasing officer. He ordered, unpacked, entered data and ticked boxes with quiet efficiency. Before that he worked in the labs and in the field working alongside his lovely wife Maggie. He worked tirelessly plotting up at Cass assisting with Ashley Sparrow's work. A lot of ground work was made for future students to start their own research there. Being an active member of the staff wasn't enough so Gavin took quite a few courses over the years to fulfill his interest in biology even more. The last course he completed was 211 Insect Biology, which hopefully is coming in handy with his bee keeping at home.

Apart from the above he was also one of the lads who did their bit over the years to lug equipment and furniture around the buildings. He also provided, along with everybody else, treats for morning teas and my personal favourites, savs and tommy sauce!! The morning brigade will be one man down and the corridors will seem even more quieter. We are losing another fabulous technician whom both staff and students will miss immensely. Enjoy your bees and the wonderful life that awaits you.


Bee Seeing You. Amazing thanks to Reijel for the decorating of the honey bees and their hives

PhD oral exam completed

Richard White had his PhD oral exam on Wednesday 29th March. His senior supervisor was Professor Angus McIntosh. The title of his thesis is 'The influence of drought on Neochanna apoda metapopulation persistence under global warming and land-use change'.

Richard has been one of those star pupils you only get very rarely. As you can see from above, he stepped in quick to have his piccie taken with the Prime Minister. Richard obtained his B.Sc. (Pilgrim Prize), M.Sc. (First Class) (UC Masters scholarship) and now his Ph.D. (Roper scholarship), all at Canterbury. Congratulations Richard!

Pictured: Professor Angus McIntosh (Senior Supervisor), Professor George Perry (Oral Examiner, University of Auckland), Richard and up above, Professor Jason Tylianakis (Oral Organiser)

Recent publications in the school

Boamponsem, G.A. and Leung, D.W.M. (2017). Use of compact and friable callus cultures to study adaptive morphological and biochemical responses of potato (Solanum tuberosum) to iron supply. Scientia Horticulturae 219: 161-172.

Cameron, E.Z., Edwards, A.M. and Parsley, L.M. (2016). Developmental sexual dimorphism and the evolution of mechanisms for adjustment of sex ratios in mammals. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1389: 147-163.

Charan-Dixon, H., Gaw, S., Goldstien, S.J. and Glover, C.N. (2017). Effects of waterborne cadmium on energy metabolism in the tropical sea cucumber, Stichopus horrens, and a comparison of tissue-specific cadmium accumulation with the temperate sea cucumber Australostichopus mollis. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 141: 1-8.

Guo, Q., Turnbull, M.H., Song, J., Roche, J., Novak, O., Späth, J., Jameson, P.E. and Love, J. (2017). Depletion of carbohydrate reserves limits nitrate uptake during early regrowth in Lolium perenne L. Journal of Experimental Botany doi:10.1093/jxb/erx056.

Pang, L., Robson, B., Farkas, K., McGill, E., Varsani, A., Gillot, L., Li, J. and Abraham, P. (2017). Tracking effluent discharges in undisturbed stony soil and alluvial gravel aquifer using synthetic DNA tracers. Science of the Total Environment 592: 144-152.

Raoul completed his MSc with Associate Professor Ximena Nelson. Check out Raoul's research on his publication below.
Schwing, R., Nelson, X.J., Wein, A. and Parsons, S. (2017). Positive emotional contagion in a New Zealand parrot. Current Biology 27: R199-R217.

Roche, J., Turnbull, M.H., Guo, Q., Novák, O., Späth, J., Gieseg, S.P., Jameson, P.E. and Love, J. (2017). Coordinated nitrogen and carbon remobilization for nitrate assimilation in leaf, sheath and root and associated cytokinin signals during early regrowth of Lolium perenne. Annals of Botany doi:10.1093/aob/mcx014.

Tcherkez, G., Gauthier, P., Buckley, T.N., Busch, F.A., Barbour, M.M., Bruhn, D., Heskel, M.A., Gong, X.Y., Crous, K., Griffin, K.L., Way, D.A., Turnbull, M.H., Adams, M.A., Atkin, O.K., Bender, M., Farquhar, G.D. and Cornic, G. (2017). Tracking the origins of the Kok effect, 70 years after its discovery. New Phytologist 214(2): 506-510.

Tomasetto, F., Tylianakis, J.M., Reale, M., Wratten, S. and Goldson, S.L. (2017). Intensified agriculture favors evolved resistance to biological control. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America doi:10.1073/pnas.1618416114.

White, R.S.A. and McIntosh, A.R. (2017). Brown mudfish: fighting to survive extreme droughts in ancient swamp-forests. National Wetland Trust Newsletter: Wet and Wild. 45.

This is Jonathan’s second paper from his PhD.
Williams, J., Trautwein-Schult, A., Kunze, G. and Baronian, K. (2017). Environmental and metabolic parameters affecting the uric acid production of Arxula adeninivorans. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 101(7): doi:10.1007/s00253-00017-08199-00253.

In the spotlight

UC Teaching Award

Pieter Pelser, has just been advised by the UC Teaching and Learning Committee that he will receive a University Teaching Award when they are formally announced during Teaching Week. 

As in previous years, this year there were more nominations than available awards. The selection committee was impressed at the impact that Pieter is having with students and colleagues. 

This is a significant award, and a great recognition of Pieter’s commitment to our students and our teaching mission.

Funding success

Congratulations to Jason Tylianakis, who has had year-2 funding confirmed for two 5-year projects in the Bio-Protection CoRE at Lincoln University. For two projects: 'Scenario modelling of the evolution of host resistance', and 'Understanding how community interaction networks resist and respond to invasions’.  Funding for year 2 of the program (2017) is $161,000.

For this New Zealand parrot, 'laughter' is contagious

When people are feeling playful, they giggle and laugh, making others around them want to laugh and play too. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on March 20 have found that the particularly playful kea parrot from New Zealand has a "play call" with a similarly powerful influence. When other kea hear that call, it puts them into a playful mood.

The findings make kea the first known non-mammal to have such an "emotionally contagious" vocalization, the researchers say. Earlier studies had made similar findings for chimpanzees and rats.

"We were able to use a playback of these calls to show that it animates kea that were not playing to do so," says Raoul Schwing of the Messerli Research Institute in Austria. Read the full story at Phys Org, Science Daily,

Being cheeky is infectious for these parrots - Mashable Australia
Cheeky native New Zealand parrot the kea's laugh is infectious - scientists - TVNZ, with video
Playing Parrots Produce 'Contagious Laughter' - Forbes
Meet the New Zealand parrot whose "laughter" is contagious - CBS News
Birds of play demonstrate the infectious power of emotion - Nature
Kea playfulness is contagious, study finds - Australian Geographic

I decided not to add the five pages worth of media outlets that picked up the story...

UC students discover native birds thriving on Ilam campus

As part of a lab exercise for their Biology course, a group of second-year UC Science students created a bird atlas of the UC campus in Ilam and compared it to a similar atlas from 1990, created by a BSc student in Zoology.

UC School of Biological Sciences academic Professor Jim Briskie says it is likely that the changes are due to the increased plantings on campus of native trees favoured by native birds, and decreased open space, which is the habitat favoured by many introduced species.

Read the full article at UC Communications.


Friends of Tuhaitara Coastal park - Anza Day planting


We will be planting 1000 totara and another 1000 mixed native tree species at Woodend Beach

The event is 10.30 – 1pm Anzac Day, Tueday 25th April, followed by some kai.

If you can make it, we would love to see you. Bring a hat, friend or family and a spade if you have one. We will have water bottles, biscuits and a bbq afterwards. Lively discussion guaranteed. RSVP: Greg Byrnes Te Kohaka o Tuhaitara <>


Marsden Funded PhD Scholarship

Testing for Fishing-Induced Evolution using Genotyping-by-Sequencing of Ancient and Modern Snapper
The ideal starting date is 1 July 2017

Project Description
We are seeking a highly-motivated PhD student for a project that aims to test for fishing-induced evolution in New Zealand Snapper (Chrysophrys auratus) using Genotyping-by-Sequencing (GBS) of modern and ancient DNA.  

Project Supervisors  
Dr. Peter Ritchie, Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), New Zealand  
Dr. Nic Rawlence, Department of Zoology, University of Otago, New Zealand  
Dr. Maren Wellenreuther, Plant and Food Research (PFR), Nelson, New Zealand  

Fishing typically targets larger individuals and thus has the potential to increase the reproductive success of small fish that mature early. Numerous studies have reported a decrease in the average size of heavily fished species and the age of maturation, but there is uncertainty about whether this is caused by directional selection on allele frequencies (evolutionary change). The overall goal of this PhD project is to test for fishing-induced evolution in New Zealand snapper by comparing DNA isolated from contemporary populations, to the DNA isolated from bones of pre-industrial fish samples. New Zealand has a unique record of snapper bones that have been preserved in prehistoric New Zealand middens (i.e. places where food remains were dumped or buried). The successful candidate for this project will be responsible for collecting a GBS dataset of genome-wide SNPs using DNA extracted from contemporary samples. This position will be based at Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand). The data set collected from contemporary samples will be combined with a comparable dataset recovered from snapper ancient DNA that will be obtained by researchers at the Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory. The complete physical isolation of the ancient and modern part of the project will ensure there is minimal risk of cross-contamination. This ambitious and innovative approach will provide the level of resolution needed to identify genomic regions that have experienced selection and make precise population genetic and demographic inferences possible.

PhD Project Aims  
1. To test whether size-selective industrial fishing is associated with a signature of genetic selection,  
2. Determine levels of genetic diversity and differentiation,  
3. Test for loci under selection and adaptive genetic variation.  

This project will provide an excellent opportunity to develop skills in the areas of genomics, bioinformatics and population genetics, and how they can be used to support sustainable harvesting. The PhD student will gain experience working with collaborators in New Zealand (Professor Hamish Spencer), Australia (Professor Mike Bunce), and Norway (Dr. Bastiaan Star). The PhD student will be a member of a highly active and collaborative group of researchers, and help develop population genomics and an understanding of how human activity is changing the environment.  

The successful candidate will be a highly-motivated researcher, with a strong background and interest in genomics and molecular evolution. Experience with a coding and/or scripting languages will be an advantage. This position will be based at Victoria University of Wellington and comes with a three-year scholarship that provides a stipend (NZ$27,500 pa) and university tuition fees. This project is supported by the New Zealand Marsden Fund.  

Applicants should send a CV, contact details of two academic referees and a cover letter that states why you are interested in the position and how your qualifications and experience make you a good fit for the proposed research. Send these to Peter Ritchie (E-mail: Candidate selection will begin May, but applications will be considered until the position is filled. International applicants with strong academic record are encouraged to apply. For more information about studying at VUW and the entry requirements for the PhD program please see

Also see

What book is that?

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air.”

399: "Greed is a sin, 717." Sister Sage was beside her again. "Take care." 

Answer: The Bees by Laline Paull


Room available

Our postgrad student flat Addington from mid-April, $140 pw for a single person, or $180 for a couple including bills. Room is fully furnished with a double bed and dressers, drawers, wardrobe and a ceramic heater, down the hall from a log burner. House has 4 flatmates, and we would like a PhD student or similar to join our friendly, sociable and chilled out house. Would suit a new international student or someone without a lot of stuff, as we have tons of communal house appliances, crockery, cooking equipment, etc. The house has two indoor sitting areas, a massive back garden complete with veggie patch + chicken coop, parking, hammocks, BBQ, sheds and a comfy covered sitting area that we practically live in. If you're interested drop me a line at or 02108458377. :)

Looking for part time/full time work

I am a University of Otago graduate who completed a BSc (Hons) with First class majoring in Anatomy. My degree also included papers physiology, neuroscience and microbiology. I am looking for positions available as a lab demonstrator, assistant research fellow or anything else - contact me at 0276340637 or

Part-time position wanted

Between February and August 2017
PhD in Biochemistry. Finishing thesis submission on 31st January 2017 in supervision of
Dr Renwick Dobson. Contact Deepti Mahapatra.

More details

Rooms for rent

150 for rent + expenses. We do some shared food. Cute house with lovely back garden near the Avon River just off Woodham Road on a quiet street- very close to city centre on one side and quality red-zone foraging on the other!  Current tenant is Swiss/Kiwi. Contact Ursula 021 159 9872

Experienced editor available

Experienced editor available online for essays, dissertations, theses and for postgraduate’s papers and publications.  Specialist help for students whose first language in not English (ESL).  
Virginia Gray, BSc (Canterbury), Dip.Edit.         027 419 1046  

Need a Research Assistant?

Forestry PhD graduate seeking research assistant job - Part-time, temporary, or long-term.. Extended experience in field work (forests, drylands, and wetlands), also interested in lab work, and data entry. References: Prof. David Norton and Prof. Matthew Turnbull. Ph. 0220897825,

Field experience in ecology

Hello! My name is Tarryn Wilson and I am a study abroad student from the US studying ecology. I am contemplating on staying at UC for another semester and am looking for opportunities outside of lectures to get field experience in anything ecology-related. At my home university in the northwest US, I specialize in Fish & Wildlife Management, but have found myself captivated by New Zealand and its flora and fauna. I am looking for any sort of volunteer opportunities. Please feel free to contact me at if you know of anyone seeking help with ecology-related research, etc. (Semester 1 of 2017). Thank you!

Proofreading and Editing Services

Let me help you produce writing that is clear, error-free and consistent.

Joan Gladwyn, BSc, MSc, CPhys, DipEdit (+64) 21 213 6511

and now for something completely different...

Simon's Cat - Dinner Date: Main Course

Cat Owner Interrupted During BBC Interview

Thought for the Week

Oh no, please.
Can't we go back to page one and do it all over again?

~ Winnie the Pooh

Contact details

If you have items of news or interest that you would like included in this newsletter, contact the admin office before noon on Friday at or phone ext 6732.