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Funding to study native sand dune maker

Two Lincoln University researchers have secured Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) funding as part of a collaborative research project to study what was once one of the most ubiquitous plants in New Zealand.

Senior Lecturer in Ecology, Dr Hannah Buckley, and Senior Lecturer in Māori Environmental Planning and Development, Dr Simon Lambert, are working with researchers from Victoria University, along with Māori organisations Te Taumutu Rūnanga and Ngāti Hinewaka, to study pīngao.

Pīngao is a sand-binding sedge that is found only in New Zealand and used to flourish on virtually every sandy beach in the country (including the Chatham Islands). However, threats such as the introduced grass species marram, burning by early settlers, the reduction of natural sand dunes, and the grazing habits of farm animals and rabbits has drastically reduced its numbers to the point where only a few remnant populations remain.

Historically, pīngao was a major component of sand dune vegetation across New Zealand and was used extensively by Māori for weaving bags (kete), hats (pōtae) and mats (whāriki), as well as a range of decorative items.

The plant, which is of great cultural and ecological significance to New Zealand, exhibits pronounced biological variation and is identified as a key indicator of biodiversity through its capacity to create an environment which allows for the establishment of other native species.

The MBIE funding is part of Te Pūnaha Hihiko Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund 2013, which aims to advance individuals and organisations undertaking research which supports unlocking the science and innovation potential of Māori in the environmental, economic, social, and cultural spheres.

The $75,000 of funding given to this project is initially designed to establish knowledge-sharing via workshops of interest groups involved with the iconic pīngao; such as biologists, ecologists, geneticists, conservationists, social scientists, and traditional weavers.

From there, it is envisaged that joint research interests and methodologies will be established, with the ultimate objective of launching into more robust primary research. It’s hoped that one outcome from the research network will be innovative ideas for plant conservation, ecology, sustainability and resource management in general.

As part of the MBIE funding, the project also aims to act as a mentoring platform for Māori students engaged in postgraduate studies.

Dr Hannah Buckley sees a wide range of benefits flowing from this grant: “The project is valuable as a way to connect with a range of people and perspectives to form new ideas and develop a platform for further research. This includes an opportunity for upskilling through learning from these other viewpoints and research methods.

“A big plus for me is the mentoring opportunity. I think this is important because we can do science better when we consider a variety of ways of thinking about and approaching the discipline,” she says.


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