Biology Links

Ecology Projects

These projects are available for all thesis students.

See also Enviromental Science projects.

Forest Ecology

tantalus monkeyAre large fruited tree species suffering from dispersal limitation in Nigerian montane forests?

In Nigerian montane forests there has been a dramatic drop in the number of frugivores over the past 30 years, especially primates.  The aim of this research is to determine if this loss of frugivores is negatively affecting seed dispersal of Afromontane endemic tree species.  We shall compare fruit removal and dispersal in high frugivore versus low frugivore forest patches.
Degree: Honours / MSc / PhD
Background/skills required:
Field/lab support funding is available
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Supervisor: Assoc Prof Hazel Chapman
Nigerian Montane Forest Project

Puttynose monkeyHow important is secondary seed dispersal in Afromontane forests?

Initial work has demonstrated that most seed dispersed by putty nose monkeys is removed from the forest floor before it has a chance to germinate (in fact, almost all seed is removed with two days of falling).  The aim of this project is to investigate the fate of this seed. What proportion is moved by insects or rodents to ‘safe’ sites versus being eaten? How does this vary between tree species?   How does it vary with time of year?
Degree: Honours / MSc / PhD
Background/skills required:
Field/lab support funding is available
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Supervisor: Assoc Prof Hazel Chapman
Nigerian Montane Forest Project

fruitAre putty nose monkeys attracted or repulsed by insect infested fruit?

The answer to this research question may have important implications. Frugivores may ‘clean’ seed in their gut and save seed from insect attack. Alternatively they move remove fruit before infestation and save seed in that way. Frugivores may, by eating infected fruit, help disperse insect populations.
Degree: Honours / MSc / PhD
Background/skills required:
Field/lab support funding is available
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Supervisor: Assoc Prof Hazel Chapman
Nigerian Montane Forest Project

insect pollinatorPollination biology at Ngel Nyaki forest, Nigeria

There are several ornithologists and an entomologist working on the creation of a pollination web for Ngel Nyaki. Within this overall aim will be many potential MSc/PhD questions relating to pollination in Afromontane areas. 
Degree: Honours / MSc / PhD
Background/skills required:
Field/lab support funding is available
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Supervisor: Assoc Prof Hazel Chapman
Nigerian Montane Forest Project

working in the forestGene flow and population genetics in Nigerian forests

Nigerian montane forests have always been fragmented, but have become more so recently. Some species are very common, others are rare. Two species, common in/near Ngel Nyaki forest have not been recorded elsewhere in Nigeria/Cameroon but are common in East Africa. What are the consequences of fragmentation and rarity for gene flow within and between these forests?  
Degree: Honours / MSc / PhD
Background/skills required:
Field/lab support funding is available
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Supervisor: Assoc Prof Hazel Chapman
Nigerian Montane Forest Project

Freshwater Ecology

low sediment stream merging with high sediment riverThe impact of sediment on stream communities

New Zealand is undergoing a period of intensification of land use (e.g. dairy conversion, expanding urbanisation, deforestation and mining), and these activities can frequently result in high turbidity and sedimentation in stream systems. The impacts (both direct and indirect) of turbidity and sedimentation on stream communities are relatively poorly understood. In particular, questions about the behavioural and life history responses of stream invertebrates and native fish to these conditions are of increasing concern to regulatory agencies.
Degree: MSc / PhD
Background/skills required:
Field/lab support funding is available
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Supervisor: Assoc Prof Jon Harding

Whitebaiting in streamResponses of stream ecosystems to urban and rural land use pressures

We are looking for students who can develop and undertake innovative research that will both improve our understanding of fundamental issues and enhance current management.  There is an opportunity for students to develop their own research ideas as long as they fit within the overall focus of the research project.  At least one of the scholarships will be targeted at research aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of riparian management, and will be part of a larger five year research project funded by the Mackenzie Charitable Foundation to investigate the responses of stream ecosystems to urban and rural land-use pressures.
Degree: Honours / MSc / PhD
Background/skills required: We are particularly interested in applications from individuals who have the potential to carry out innovative and insightful research, as well as the initiative and personality to communicate the results to a wide variety of groups.  The student must be able to work within a team and can expect high quality mentoring and support from the group.  Successful applicants will have a strong academic record, appropriate practical and technical experience, and will have demonstrated a high level of ability in written and oral communication.
Scholarship funding is available for a PhD student
, funding may be available for Honours / Masters.
Field/lab support funding is available
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Supervisor: Prof Angus McIntosh or Assoc Prof Jon Harding

streamInfluences of changing hydrological conditions on streams

We are looking for students who can develop and undertake innovative research that will both improve our understanding of fundamental issues and enhance current management.  There is an opportunity for students to develop their own research ideas as long as they fit within the overall focus of the research project.  At least one of the scholarships will be targeted at research aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of riparian management, and will be part of a larger five year research project funded by the Mackenzie Charitable Foundation to investigate the responses of stream ecosystems to urban and rural land-use pressures.
Degree: Honours / MSc / PhD
Background/skills required: We are particularly interested in applications from individuals who have the potential to carry out innovative and insightful research, as well as the initiative and personality to communicate the results to a wide variety of groups.  The student must be able to work within a team and can expect high quality mentoring and support from the group.  Successful applicants will have a strong academic record, appropriate practical and technical experience, and will have demonstrated a high level of ability in written and oral communication.
Scholarship funding is available for a PhD student, funding may be available for Honours / Masters.
Field/lab support funding is available
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Supervisor: Prof Angus McIntosh or Assoc Prof Jon Harding

Marine Ecology

estuarySalt marsh ecology and restoration

There are opportunities for several students to contribute to this programme. This purpose of this research is to investigate the functional relationships of the biota within salt marshes and develop techniques to optimise the success of restoration programmes in New Zealand. The research examines the sediment, animal and plant relationships within newly established and established marsh areas within the Canterbury region. It will identify the key environmental and biotic requirements for salt marsh establishment. Studies on the biota (invertebrates and birds) will be done concurrently with investigating the hydrology, sediment processes and sediment composition including fine sediments and contaminants.
Degree: Honours / MSc / PhD
Background/skills required: Background in marine ecology, sampling and analytical skills, and interest in birds and or marine invertebrates
Scholarship funding may be available.

Field/lab support funding is available
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Supervisor: Associate Professor Islay Marsden

Marine Ecophysiology

shellIndicator species of estuarine health

This project investigates the role of crustaceans and/or molluscs as indicators of estuary health by examining the stress responses to environmental stressors, including elevated temperatures, reduced salinities, contaminants and algal blooms. It will include a combination of field and laboratory work using key species that define estuarine communities. Some of the research could be undertaken at the Edward Percival Field Station at Kaikoura.   
Degree: Honours / MSc / PhD
Background/skills required: Whole animal physiology and ecology.
Scholarship funding may be available.
Field/lab support funding is available
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Supervisor: Associate Professor Islay Marsden

Plant-Animal Interactions

bellbird in mistletoe (A. Robertson)Pollen limitation in native plants

For a temperate country, the NZ woody flora is unusually dependent upon bird pollination and fruit dispersal, with about 15% of woody species being pollinated by birds and 48% of species with fleshy fruit. Reduced densities of native birds and the introduction of many exotic birds have altered the possible interactions between pollinators and plants. Specific projects in this area include studies of how well pollination is working in important native plants, whether introduced birds and/or insects are replacing absent native birds, and the downstream effect of pollination failure on seedling densities and plant regeneration.
Degree: Honours / MSc / PhD
Background/skills required: Ability with field work
Scholarship funding may be available.
Field/lab support funding is available
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Supervisor: Professor Dave Kelly

Plant Ecology

Working with tussock at Mt HuttProductivity and mast seeding

Mast seeding (perennial plants showing huge variation in seed crops from year to year) affects plant reproduction, creates population outbreaks in consumers (like mice) and affects conservation of rare birds like yellowheads. However, the ecological mechanisms and evolutionary benefits are incompletely understood.  One major unanswered question is how masting relates to site productivity (eg soil nutrients) and global warming, and how this affects interactions with seed predators. Specifically, studying masting in relation to habitat and climate factors has the potential to explain why New Zealand has more pronounced masting than any other part of the world.
Degree: Honours / MSc / PhD
Background/skills required:
Scholarship funding may be available.

Field/lab support funding is available
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Supervisor: Professor Dave Kelly

Population Genetics

Evolutionary processes in expanding NZ hedgehog populations

A small number of European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) were introduced to New Zealand during the late 1800’s and the species has rapidly expanded its distribution. As a result, NZ hedgehog populations are an excellent model of how various evolutionary processes may affect expanding populations.  This project proposes to use molecular genetic tools, including microsatellite markers, mitochondrial sequences and nuclear gene sequences, to assess levels and pattern of genetic diversity in NZ and UK hedgehog populations, from which we can assess the long term impact of inbreeding and founder effects on an expanding population.
Degree: PhD
Background/skills required: Population genetics and/or evolutionary biology
Field/lab support funding is available
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Supervisor: Dr Marie Hale

Soil Ecology and Biology

soilThe release of nutrients from weed seeds by soil microbes

Plants invest heavily in their species and produce seeds rich in nutrients that are well adapted for survival.  A great proportion of seeds can be lost to animal predation but little is known about losses to soil microbial populations (plant pathological losses excepted).  The benefits of seed nutrients to the soil microbial biomass on a seasonal basis are unknown and there is little or no information on utilisation of the resources in weed seeds such as gorse and other exotics by soil microbes.
Degree: Honours / MSc / PhD
Background/skills required: General biology and chemistry but a strong interest in natural science.
Scholarship funding may be available.

Field/lab support funding is available
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Supervisor: Associate Professor Laurie Greenfield

Contact Staff

Hazel Chapman Assoc Prof Hazel Chapman
Evolutionary Ecology
Nigerian Montane Forest Project
Assoc Prof Angus McIntosh Prof Angus McIntosh
Mackenzie Foundation Chair in Freshwater Ecology
Freshwater Ecology Research Group (FERG)
Dr Raph Didham Assoc Prof Raphael Didham
Terrestrial Ecology
Dr John Pirker
Marine Ecology
Assoc Prof Jon Harding
Stream Biology
Freshwater Ecology Research Group (FERG)
Prof David Schiel
Marine Ecology
Marine Ecology Research Group (MERG)
Prof Dave Kelly Prof Dave Kelly
Ecology
Mistletoe Research Group
Matthew Turnbull Prof Matthew Turnbull
Plant Physiological Ecology
Assoc Prof Islay Marsden
Marine Biology
Dr Jason Tylianakis Prof Jason Tylianakis
Terrestrial Ecology

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