DPhil Student Marcela Mendoza Suarez on New Zealand Fieldwork Experience

Wed February 1st, 2017

"The monitoring project not only contributed to the recovery of hihi and tieke [birds] at Maungatautari Ecological Island but also helped make me a more complete biologist."

Thanks to von Weyhausen Conservation Fund from Balliol College, Dphil student Marcela Mendoza Suarez, was able to participate as a volunteer in the monitoring project ‘Reintroduction of hihi (Notiomystis cincta) and tieke (Philesturnus carunculatus) to Maungatautari Ecological Island’ in New Zealand in Michaelmas Term 2016.
 
Hihi and tieke are birds belonging to two distinct and ancient endemic lineages, the Notiomystidae and Callaeidae respectively. An evolutionary history devoid of mammalian predation has left these two species of forest-dwelling passerines ill adapted to handle the pressures placed on them by mammalian predators introduced by European settlers. Their lack of instinctual fear coupled with behaviours like roosting and nesting in cavities, make them ideal prey for introduced mammalian predators such as black rats and stoats.
 
As a volunteer, Marcela helped the ecologist in charge of the project with two important tasks. Firstly, they walked pest-monitoring lines surveying for hihi and tieke, using playback of calls to detect birds and binoculars to identify individually marked birds. They also caught unbanded hihi using mist nets, and banded them with unique combinations of coloured bands. This work allowed them to generate a minimum count for each species.
 
Here are some of Marcela's thoughts on this experience: 

"The opportunity to be involved with this fieldwork helped me enormously to better understand real-life biology. The need to be aware of my surroundings in the field reminded me how each part of the ecosystem is linked – something that can very easily be forgotten in the laboratory, where my PhD work is focused, and where all experiments are performed under controlled conditions. Now, I’m much more aware of subtle differences in my experiments’ immediate surroundings which could impact on my results.

As a plant scientist the chance to be in contact with native, often endemic, New Zealand flora was an once-in-a-lifetime experience that reignited my curiosity as a scientist, which can be lost in the repetitive DPhil life. The monitoring project not only contributed to the recovery of hihi and tieke at Maungatautari Ecological Island but also helped make me a more complete biologist."