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DNA sequencing unveils past environments

Manaaki Whenua has a long history of using microfossils to reconstruct past environments. Information about the past helps us to improve our understanding of how current ecosystems function, and provides pre-human baseline information, which can inform conservation and restoration planning.

More recently, ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis has been added to the traditional microfossil toolkit, and provides a new and unprecedented level of information about the past that was previously unobtainable with microscopes.

Manaaki Whenua’s Long Term Ecology Laboratory has been using aDNA analysis on a range of materials, including sediments taken from wetlands, caves and lakes, as well as preserved droppings from extinct and threatened birds, and introduced rats.

Wetland coring for ancient DNA

Marsden project on kiore droppings

DNA sequencing from ancient kiore (Pacific rat) droppings is giving Manaaki Whenua scientists unique insights into the ecological impacts of New Zealand’s first naturalised invasive species.

A small rock cavity in Central Otago contained hundreds of 750-year-old kiore droppings. Analysis of these droppings is providing a fascinating snapshot of what the first rats in New Zealand were eating, and their environmental impact on birds, plants and invertebrates.

More droppings have since been found in the North Island, allowing our scientists to explore dietary change of an invasive species through space and time in a globally unique setting.

Collecting kiore coprolites: the hunt for fossilised faeces