Category Archives: Animal migration

1000 words to describe complex stuff, simply!

We tasked our Honours students to explain their research project using the 1000 most common (simple) English words as established by Randall Munroe, e.g. food-heating radio box = a microwave!  See if you can guess their research and what creature/organism they are studying.


What’s been going on? Part 2: Flores, homeland of the Pacific rat

By Vicki Thomson


Travelling by traditional Polynesian canoe. Here, Hawaiian priests travel to meet Captain Cook. Credit: J. Webber

Knowing the history of the animals and plants we use regularly can shed light onto the history of human populations. Early cultures took pigs, dogs, rats, chickens, sweet potatoes, and bottle gourds as food items on their canoe voyages out into the Pacific – we assume they were uncertain of the food resources that would be available during or at their journey’s end. What the early Polynesians did not anticipate though was the destruction of native flora and fauna that would result from the introduction of some of these species, in particular, the Pacific rat (Rattus exulans or kiore in New Zealand). Today, the Pacific rat is currently found on almost all the Pacific islands. In New Zealand, a country with no native land mammals, many birds were driven extinct after the arrival of the Pacific rat with the Maori, in the late 13th century. These rats are also thought to have caused the complete deforestation of palm trees on Easter Island. As this rat cannot swim over long distances, we know the arrival of the Pacific rat on an island can be tied back to the appearance of humans, making this rat especially useful for tracking Polynesian migration and trade trips. Why were these people carrying rats with them? Continue reading

Emu no longer the closest relative to the kiwi – but, what is?

Research published this month reveals the closest relative to the kiwi is, in fact, the extinct Madagascan elephant bird, not the emu, as was previously thought. For over ten decades, researchers have thought the kiwi found its way to New Zealand via continental drift, 130 million years ago. However, due to recent ancient DNA advances, this new study explains that the flightless kiwi originally found its way to New Zealand through flight!

Here, Professor Alan Cooper talks to Radio New Zealand National’s reporter, Kim Hill, and explains how this research came together – a story spanning 20 years.  Continue reading

What’s been going on? – Part 1: Why did the chicken cross the Pacific?

By Vicki Thomson

In the quest to find out what on earth is going on, I have been asking some animals how all the people of different cultures came together to create the modern world.

At home in New Zealand, I describe myself as a Pakeha, it means a New Zealander (Kiwi) of European descent. However, I also have some Maori blood. This means my ancestors were individuals of different cultures and homelands who all undertook travels to new worlds, and as a kid the stories behind these human journeys fascinated me. Continue reading