After the United States trip, my next big adventure of 2018 was a field-collecting trip to Stewart Island. After the North and South islands, Stewart Island is the third largest island (by land-mass) of New Zealand. Getting to Stewart Island can be done by plane or by ferry. The locals say it’s “20 minutes of terror or an hour of Hell”. This of course refers to the means of transportation. The plane option is a small Britten-Norman islander that seats 8-10 people while apparently the ferry is quite rough. We opted to take the small plane, which I thoroughly enjoyed after an initial uncertainty. On the return flight I wanted to sit as close to the passenger seat as possible! We had breathtaking views as we departed Invercargill and headed towards Stewart Island.
The trip included myself and my labmates, Neil, Morgane, and Bex. Our main focus of the trip was to collect harvestmen for the comparative aspect of our Marsden-funded project. This aspect of the project, using 2-D and 3-D modelling via CT scanning and comparative methods to explore weapon shape evolution across the New Zealand Neopilionidae (long-legged harvestmen), is led by my supervisor Chrissie Painting. Because of maternity leave and welcoming a beautiful baby boy to her whānau, I had the privilege of leading several field trips across the country to collect the specimens needed for this part of the project across my PhD.
We began on Stewart Island, where we collected for three nights. Stewart Island is largely undeveloped, so we were able to access the tracks and forest by foot from our hotel. During the daytime, we collected kelp flies (in the family Coelopidae) along the different bays and beaches for my labmate Bex’s PhD project. And when night finally fell (it takes until 10pm to get dark on the south island at peak summertime!) we headed out into the bush for harvestmen. We were quite excited to find what we were looking for: harvestmen and kelp flies, as well as stick insects and a variety of other spider, fly, and wasp fauna. However, eager tourists tramping through the bush at night were disappointed to hear that our headlights/torches were turned onto mere arthropods rather than a prized kiwi. We did hear kiwi calling and it would have been a pleasure to see one, but we did not. We did however see heaps of kaka (a large, red-grey parrot), kererū (wood pigeons), tui, and some red-crowned kākāriki (parakeet). The island is largely predator-free with extensive pest control, which allows these birds to thrive off of the mainland. Native flax was in bloom, which attracted the tui and kaka, sparking competition between the two species. Surprisingly, the tui dominated over the larger kaka.