The research priorities for the 2023 application round of the DOC postgraduate scholarship programme.

The priorities for this year are listed under the five Outcomes taken from Te Mana o te Taiao | Aotearoa NZ Biodiversity Strategy 2020 and our Heritage & Visitor Strategy. Scholarship applicants need to ensure that their research addresses one or more of these priorities.

We welcome either a mainstream science and/or Mātauranga Māori approach to any of the research priorities listed below.

This year, we would also like a focal area to be our 2023 Long-term Insights Briefing (LTIB). This document focuses on technologies and data that can transform how we monitor and protect our biodiversity (eg remote sensing, machine learning, AI, genetic tools, etc). Applications that align their postgraduate research with the themes within the LTIB will be of particular interest to DOC.

Outcome 1: Ecosystems, from mountain tops to ocean depths, are thriving

Key theme: Ecosystem protection

  1. Benefit and risk of domestic livestock grazing on conservation land regarding threatened ecosystem and species occurrence, distribution, and persistence.
  2. Improving methods for freshwater biosecurity (eg herbicide use and residual effects, detection of new incursion), including opportunities to prevent incursions at source by working with relevant organisations/people.
  3. Tipping points for the ecological and cultural integrity of indigenous ecosystems and species (eg climate change effects, sedimentation in rivers, lakes, wetlands, estuaries, and near-shore marine environments).
  4. Distribution of protected benthic marine species in Fiordland (eg characterising and understanding vulnerable data deficient species facing a multitude of stressors).
  5. Monitoring and managing abundance and impacts of pest mammals (such as goats, pigs, deer, weasels) and weeds (eg sward forming grasses, Festuca rubra, Ammophila arenaria, Euphorbia paralias). This includes understanding stakeholders' interests and commitment to support this work. Examples: goat eradication from Taranaki Mounga; preference of different ungulate species for common native plants in natural forests; impact of wilding conifers on catchment water yields (eg implications for indigenous habitat condition and persistence).
  6. Potential unintended consequences and flow-on effects of the removal of targeted predator species (eg, effects on mice populations resulting from the removal of mustelids and rats).

Outcome 2: Indigenous species and their habitat across Aotearoa NZ and beyond are thriving

Key theme: Species protection

  1. Improving our understanding of the ecology and threats of nationally critical species (we are specifically interested in data deficient species such as: green gecko, mudfish, native spiders, native moths).
  2. Development and/or application of conservations genetics tools for improved species management (eg eDNA, spider/katapo, fish conservation).
  3. Disease risk to threatened species: surveillance, mitigation and response (recommend focus on Avian Influenza).
  4. Pest species detection and removal - especially at low densities at remote sites (viable pest control thresholds, confidence of proof of absence models).
  5. Testing and evaluating new tools for field-based management of threatened and at-risk species, including: ground-based predator control; improved freshwater fish passage and spawning site restoration; threatened plant recovery actions.
  6. Increasing our understanding of how plastic pollution impacts marine protected species, including opportunities to reduce plastic volumes in the environment.

Outcome 3: People’s lives are enriched through their connection with nature

Key theme: Human/cultural dimension

  1. Identify opportunities and benefits for new collaborations to connect community science programmes and conservation efforts with wider restoration activities in Protected Natural Areas.
  2. Explore ways of connecting people with disability to nature, including technology-enabled experiences (eg virtual) and determine associated benefits.
  3. Developing performance metrics for regenerative management of visitors to Protected Natural Areas.
  4. Establishing social license from local communities to undertake wild animal management interventions.
  5. Identify at risk heritage and visitor assets and determine most effective climate change adaptation options, including a consideration of the simultaneous need to reduce carbon emissions.
  6. Understanding the links between ecosystem integrity, prosperity and human wellbeing and ways to foster more effective approaches to ecosystem stewardship.

Outcome 4: Treaty partners, whānau, hapū and iwi are exercising their full role as rangatira and kaitiaki

Key theme: Mātauranga Māori and governance

  1. Invasive plant management from a Mātauranga Māori perspective.
  2. Improved knowledge of life history, migratory pathways and threats to taonga species (eg tuna/eel, kanakana/lamprey) through mātauranga Māori.
  3. Pathways and pre-conditions for effective co-governance system in the conservation space.
  4. Indigenous knowledge solutions to environmental threats and pressures (including customary approaches to marine management).
  5. Understanding the full spectrum of impacts of visitors on taonga species and the implications for kaitiaki.

Outcome 5: Prosperity is intrinsically linked with thriving biodiversity

Key theme: Climate change and ecosystem services

  1. Assess the impacts of sea-level rise and coastal development on coastal human-ecological systems (eg, tidal wetlands, seagrass beds, beaches).
  2. Impacts of extreme weather events (eg droughts, floods, fires, storms, king tides) on native biodiversity. Example: model and predict the physical characteristics and drivers of marine heatwaves and evaluate the implications for protected species and Marine Protected Areas.
  3. Increase our understanding of how protected areas (natural and cultural heritage) and other areas managed for conservation (eg OECMs) provide resilience against climate change impacts by reducing non-climate stressors.
  4. Understanding the risks from offshore wind developments on marine ecosystems and protected species.
  5. Identify and/or model the impact of climate change on species distributions and ecological integrity (including indigenous and invasive plant and animal species).
  6. Understanding the contribution of New Zealand's native ecosystems to nature-based solutions (eg wetlands, coastal ecosystem and forest carbon storage and cycling) for climate change resilience and their vulnerability to climate impacts.

Research priorities of our partners

Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) Priorities

  1. Aim to better understand the species missing from eDNA reference libraries that would aid in assessing changes to the marine environment in response to permitted activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone. Identification of priority species missing from reference databases and sequencing of DNA.
  2. Use of spatial information on land use, topography and climate to improve ecotoxicological modelling of the environmental fates of chemicals in New Zealand.
  3. Chemical fate in compost and/or bio solids – characterising hazardous substances in commercially produced compost/biosolids.
  4. Review the use of social impact assessment in consenting processes in New Zealand.   
  5. Examine the potential entry of veterinary medicines and pasture herbicides into our waterways.
  6. Optimisation of methodology for detection of metabolites from common pesticide that are likely persistent and mobile.
  7. Provide monitoring data for bird life around New Zealand specific cropping systems to help the EPA refine our avian exposure models.
  8. Monitoring of antifouling paint biocide residues (including paint flakes) in marina environments to create a baseline to measure the effectiveness of the 2013 antifouling reassessment over time.

Kauri Protection priorities – Biosecurity NZ - Tiakina Kauri

Funding will be offered to applicants in the following thematic areas related to building a bridge between research and operational management for the protection of kauri.

  1. Surveillance, detection, diagnostics and pathways of the pathogen Phytophthora agathidicida and disease of kauri
  2. Biology of kauri, kauri forests and Phytophthora agathidicida
  3. Ecosystem impacts of Phytophthora agathidicida and diseased kauri
  4. Te Ao Māori approaches to understanding and managing Phytophthora agathidicida and disease of kauri
  5. Building public/community engagement and social license specific to kauri ora goals
  6. Control and management of Phytophthora agathidicida and disease of kauri.
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