Shelley McMurtrie's blog

Diatoms and westerly winds

50 Degrees South Trust, Campbell Island Bicentennary Expedition - tarns
50 Degrees South Trust, Campbell Island Bicentennary Expedition - tarns
50 Degrees South Trust, Campbell Island Bicentennary Expedition - tarns
50 Degrees South Trust, Campbell Island Bicentennary Expedition - tarns
50 Degrees South Trust, Campbell Island Bicentennary Expedition - tarns

By Krystyna Saunders:

As part of the CIBE expedition, I spent seven weeks on Campbell Island sampling 45 lakes, tarns and ponds all over the island. At each site we collected water and sediment samples. Back in the lab at the University of Bern, Switzerland, I analysed the diatoms in the sediment and related to them to the water chemistry we measured.

Diatoms are unicellular algae and have a siliceous skeleton. They are found in almost all aquatic environments including fresh and marine waters and soils. They are highly sensitive to their environment and even small changes in water chemistry can lead to large changes in the species found.

Over time layers of sediment accumulate on top of each other, with each layer representing a different period of time. By identifying the diatoms in these layers and using our understanding of their ecology, we can reconstruct what the environment and climate were like when they were at the sediment surface.

We are interested in Campbell Island because not only has there never been a comprehensive survey of diatoms in its water bodies, meaning there is a large gap in our understanding of sub-Antarctic diatom flora, their sensitivity to their environment means we can use them to reconstruct past climates, in particular the strength of the Southern Hemisphere westerly winds. This is important because the westerly winds play a role in the circulation of the Southern Ocean and the climate of the mid-latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere including Tasmania, southern New Zealand and southern South America. Sub-Antarctic islands lie within the core belt of the westerly winds: between the ‘furious fifties’ and ‘screaming sixties’. This means they are ideally located to reconstruct past westerly wind behaviour.

This study was the first comprehensive survey of diatoms in water bodies on Campbell Island, and led to some exciting new results that were recently published in the Journal of Quaternary Science.

Importantly, we found that similar to other sub-Antarctic islands the conductivity measured in Campbell Island’s water bodies is due to sea spray from the strong westerlies. This means that conductivity decreases with distance from the west coast. Most of the diatom species we identified have been found elsewhere in the sub-Antarctic and the differences between water bodies is mostly due to conductivity changes. By working out the relationship between different species and conductivity, we used this information to develop a diatom model for reconstructing conductivity. This is a significant step towards reconstructing how the westerly winds behaved in the past because it means we can apply our model to diatoms identified in a sediment core from the western edge of Campbell Island, which we are currently working on.

If anyone is interested in finding out more, please contact me at: krystyna.saunders@ansto.gov.au
 

Identification key published online

EOS Ecology Campbell Island invertebrate key
EOS Ecology Campbell Island invertebrate key
EOS Ecology Campbell Island invertebrate key
EOS Ecology Campbell Island invertebrate key
EOS Ecology Campbell Island invertebrate key
EOS Ecology Campbell Island invertebrate key
EOS Ecology Campbell Island invertebrate key

The first ever interactive identification keys to the freshwater invertebrates of Campbell Island have been published online (McMurtrie, Sinton & Winterbourn, 2014).

The 2010 Bicentennial Expedition is now a distant memory but one that will ever remain in the hearts and minds of those of us who had the privilege of being involved. This key is only one of the planned outputs of one of the most comprehensive aquatic sampling programmes to ever take place on the island. We hope that it will be useful to all practitioners working in the Subantarctic.

Over that 2010/11 summer we collected aquatic invertebrates, periphyton, microbes, water quality, sediment quality, and stable isotope samples from 25 streams and 9 tarns, and sampled 34 tarns for water and sediment quality.

Despite a shaky start – you may remember that a devastating earthquake hit Christchurch only 11 days after our return – we have worked our way through the 235 benthic aquatic invertebrate samples collected to develop the invertebrate keys.

Working with Professor Mike Winterbourn of the University of Canterbury and taxonomists from around the world, we’ve been able to describe 36 different taxa in the key and associated information sheets. This includes one new species of worm (Macquaridrilus mcmurtrieae), which I have had the privilege of being named after me, thanks to the taxonomist that described it (Adrian Pinder from the Department of Parks and Wildlife in Western Australia). Out of this work we have also had new distribution records confirmed, and other possible new species pending confirmation via DNA work in the flatworm and nemertean groups.

Overall we found that Campbell Island’s streams and tarns are home to a moderately diverse range of freshwater invertebrate species, and that many of them are unique to the island. This is not surprising, considering its isolation and the harsh environment. But what is equally interesting was that the island does also plays host to some of the same species that are found on mainland New Zealand – such as the common caddisfly, Oxyethira albiceps despite the 700 km of southern oceans between the two.

We also discovered there is a very high diversity of aquatic oligochaetes (worms). We have only had 2% of the oligochaete specimens identified and already there are seventeen different taxa, so there is great potential for more new species or new records for the island. They do not form part of the identification key yet, as we will need more funding to go through the staggering number of oligochaetes that we found (almost 9000!). But with such funding we would be able to finally unravel the mysteries of this little known yet diverse and fascinating group (click here to find out more about the wonderful world of Campbell Island worms).

We are grateful to the many people that contributed to making this key come together, and to funding from TFBIS (Terrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity Information System) that is administered by the Department of Conservation.

The key can be accessed at www.ciinvertkey.com

Donations to the CIBE to further post-expedition outputs can be made here.

[Shelley McMurtrie]

A new species of worm for Campbell Island

50 Degrees South Trust, Campbell Island, invertebrate identification key
50 Degrees South Trust, Campbell Island, invertebrate identification key
50 Degrees South Trust, Campbell Island, invertebrate identification key
50 Degrees South Trust, Campbell Island, invertebrate identification key
50 Degrees South Trust, Campbell Island, invertebrate identification key
50 Degrees South Trust, Campbell Island, invertebrate identification key

It’s a proud day when a scientist has a discovery named after her. In the field of invertebrates the chance of finding a new species is certainly greater than say working in the field of mammals, but even so, it is a rare privilege and one thing on my bucket list that I didn't think I would ever tick off.  In my case, my surname (McMurtrie) is being shared with a tiny worm (Macquaridrilus mcmurtrieae) that lives only in the streams and tarns of the remote Subantarctic island known as Campbell Island.

The worm was described by Adrian Pinder - Senior Research Scientist from Western Australia's Dept Parks and Wildlife. An article (available online) by Adrian Pinder and EOS Ecology’s Alex James has been published in the NZ Journal of Zoology and details the find and formally describes the species.

One of the most interesting features of our freshwater work on Campbell Island has been the discovery of a very abundant and diverse oligochaete fauna. With almost 9000 individuals, oligochaetes were the third most abundant order in our freshwater samples. We have only begun to fully elucidate this fascinating group. Adrian has currently identified seventeen different oligochaete taxa (including several potential new species) and this is only from a fraction (2%) of the total specimens collected.

We expect that as we look into this group further we will find many more new species and distribution records, but this is reliant on getting more funding to support the labour-intensive work. With each specimen needing to be mounted on a slide and carefully viewed under a compound microscope, the identification of the 9000 odd oligochaetes is a time-consuming labour of love. Upwards of $70 000 would be needed for their identification and development of a key and associated resources. When considered at only $7.80 per worm this seems a small amount pay to unlock the mysteries of this little known, yet very important invertebrate group on Campbell Island.

Donations to the CIBE to further such post-expedition outputs can be made here.

[Shelley McMurtrie]

The lonliest tree in the world

50 Degrees South Trust, Spruce tree on Campbell Island

An unruly, wind-blown, 100-year-old spruce tree on subantarctic Campbell Island is possibly the world's loneliest tree. Veronika Meduna visited it earlier in December 2013 with Jonathan Palmer, who analysed its tree rings to study the environmental conditions of the past century. You can listen to the radio interview at:

http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/afternoons/audio/2580938/our-changing-world-the-world%27s-loneliest-tree

The Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition team also measured the height of the tree to look at vertical growth over time - see Alex Fergus' blog on this at:

www.50south.org.nz/campbell-island/news/ultimate-ascent-world’s-loneliest-tree

Joint artist exhibition on Campbell Island

Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition, artist
Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition, artist
Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition, artist

Artists Ben Reid and Annabel Menzies-Joyce came down to Campbell Island during our mid-term resupply. They were there to experience the island through different eyes to the researchers and to interact with the research teams to understand the work that the expedition was doing. Out of this they would be able to tell the story of Campbell Island and its recovery from two centuries of human influence in a different way to that of the research outputs. Ben and Annabel have both achieved a wonderful set of works (print media for Ben and glasswork for Annabel) out of their experiences.

You have a chance to see their work displayed together in two south island joint exhibitions. They are being held at:

CHRISTCHURCH: Chambers@241, 241 Moorhouse Avenue, from the 14th of May at 5.30pm.
LITTLE RIVER: The Little River Gallery, State Highway 75, from the 18th of May at 11am.

Ben Reid - first Cambell Island exhibition

Ben Reid, Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition, 50 Degrees South Trust
Ben Reid, Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition, 50 Degrees South Trust
Ben Reid, Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition, 50 Degrees South Trust
Ben Reid, Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition, 50 Degrees South Trust
Ben Reid, Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition, 50 Degrees South Trust
50 Degrees South Trust
Ben Reid, Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition, 50 Degrees South Trust
Ben Reid, Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition, 50 Degrees South Trust
Ben Reid, Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition, 50 Degrees South Trust
Ben Reid, Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition, 50 Degrees South Trust

It’s been a long time coming but, I have finally produced work in response to my time spent on Campbell Island. I have succeeded in completing 12 new original prints in time for the first show on the 27th of February in Wellington.

Making the commitment to hold five exhibitions to show my prints eight months out, with none of the printing done and with only some loose ideas of what I’m going to do and how I am going to do it is nerve racking to say the least!

But I’ve done it and I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished.

People ask me if I’m nervous or apprehensive about the pending exhibitions and my answer is no. The nerves I did have occurred before the work was done, not now. Now that it’s completed I can relax, just a little!

An essay has been written in response to my work by Warren Feeney, a Christchurch based curator, gallery director and critic. I really like what he has written. I personally have no writing skills, instead, I prefer to use my ability to make interesting and engaging pictures to do the speaking for me.

Much time and love has been installed in these works of art. I hope they are engaging, thought provoking and most of all enjoyable to look at. Feel free to visit any one of these galleries listed below after or on opening night. If the work is not displayed then ask someone attending the gallery to show my work to you.

Here are the dates and locations of where the work will be shown:

  • WELLINGTON: Solander Gallery, 218 Willis Street, Te Aro 27th February - 30th March (Opening night is the 27th from 5.30pm)
  • WANAKA: Gallery 33, 33 Helwick Street, 1st March - 22nd March (Opening night is the 1st from 5pm)
  • DUNEDIN: The Artists Room,Level One, 2 Dowling Street, from the 6th of April at 12noon.
  • CHRISTCHURCH: Chambers@241, 241 Moorhouse Avenue, from the 14th of May at 5.30pm.
  • LITTLE RIVER: The Little River Gallery, State Highway 75, from the 18th of May at 11am.

[Ben Reid, artist]

Mark Crompton - an 'old weather recorder'

Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition, Mark Crompton, The Gaurdian
Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition, Mark Crompton, The Gaurdian

After 44 years reading the weather, and seven years combined time on Campbell Island (the longest combined time on the island) manning New Zealand's most southern meteorological station, it is time for Mark to hang up the thermometer.

Mark was a key support personnel on the Campbell Island expedition - downloading and interpreting weather maps every night so that we knew what kind of weather was in store for us on the following days. Without Marks interpretation we would not have been nearly as prepared for the changes in weather on the small island. His responsibilities at the Met Station at Hokitika has been to take daily recordings of the weather, that meant working all hours of the day and night. Even during the two month expedition to Campbell Island he had to ensure that this work still continued. I am sure there were a few nail biting moments for Mark as we departed from Bluff on the HMNZS Wellington, wondering if there would be any problems while we was away from his post (given the competent young personnel he got on board for his time away I am happy to say that things progressed smoothly during this time).

With the advent of an automated weather station for Hokitika, Marks work at the met station there is slowing down. But as technology marches on so Mark is marching on as well - with semi-retirement upon him I am sure that there will be many more hills in the West Coast range that will be tramped by Mark. And I am sure that Colin will keep Mark busy with taking all sorts of temperature and flora recordings on his ourtings!

Read the attached newspaper articles about Mark to find out more about his time as a weather man.

[Shelley McMurtrie]

Freshwater ecology team update – earthquakes and online keys

Christchurch earthquake, Campbell Island Bicentenary Expedition
Christchurch earthquake, Campbell Island Bicentenary Expedition
Christchurch earthquake, Campbell Island Bicentenary Expedition
Christchurch earthquake at EOS Ecology, Campbell Island Bicentenary Expedition
Christchurch earthquake at EOS Ecology, Campbell Island Bicentenary Expedition
Christchurch earthquake at EOS Ecology, Campbell Island Bicentenary Expedition
Processing samples at EOS Ecology, Campbell Island Bicentenary Expedition

A lot has happened since we returned on the 11 February to Christchurch from our expedition to Campbell Island. A devastating earthquake 11 days after our return and then another in June were among the more memorable (memorable for all for the wrong reasons) happenings. The February quake sent our freezer in the EOS Ecology lab flying and our irreplaceable 200-odd invertebrate samples thrown to the floor. It was a small miracle that they all survived the shake-up, and our gas-powered expedition freezer came into its own – being fired up to keep the majority of frozen samples on ice while we waited a few weeks for the power to come back on. The remaining samples (we had a fridge full of water samples and sediment cores) went on a short hiatus to the western suburbs and out to Lincoln (to Landcare Research) where the earthquake hadn’t made itself felt.

It is an understatement to say that the earthquakes set our post-expedition progress back many months, but finally things seem to be getting back to normal (or as they say here in Christchurch, a ‘new normal’). We have processed over half of the 200 odd invertebrate samples that we collected, and have already recorded over 30 unique taxa – much more than the 16 taxa recorded from streams in previous publications. This is down to our more intensive sampling at each site and our greater coverage of the island, plus our desire to go to the highest possible taxonomic resolution for taxa identifications (e.g., to species level if we can manage it).

Despite the earthquakes we did have cause to celebrate this year, with EOS Ecology being awarded a TFBIS (Terrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity Information System) fund to produce the first ever identification key for freshwater invertebrates of Campbell Island. Working with New Zealand’s most notable freshwater invertebrate specialist, Professor Mike Winterbourn, and confirming identifications of undescribed species with taxonomists from around the world, we will produce an online interactive key on the little known freshwater fauna of the island, with notes on distribution throughout the wider Subantarctic. The key will be made freely available on the CIBE website and will be useful to all practitioners working in the Subantarctic. We will let you know when it is due out, but it will be at least a year or two yet!

[Shelley McMurtrie]

A pastry chef in the making

Timber under the Hostel at Beeman Base, Campbell Island Bicentennary Expedition
Rubbish under the Hostel at Beeman Base, Campbell Island Bicentennary Expedition
Steve Croasdale, flaky pastry, Campbell Island Bicentennary Expedition
Steve Croasdale, flaky pastry, Campbell Island Bicentennary Expedition
Steve Croasdale, flaky pastry, Mountford, Campbell Island Bicentennary Expeditio
Rolling pin, Campbell Island Bicentennary Expedition

Steve Croasdale was our ‘can do’ handy man on the expedition. While he didn’t pop up a lot in our island blogs he was always there working away on repairing and maintaining the base camp buildings on behalf of the Met Service.

Part of this involved clearing out the rubbish that had accumulated under the floor of the Hostel building for many years. A number of strange items came out of that pile, but among the more promising were some short bits of timber. Instead of resigning them to the fate of most odd bits of wood (e.g., burnt in the Marshal fire box to heat our water) it was lovingly put aside to be taken with us on our return home. Given Steve’s handy man expertise it didn’t take him long to turn the rejected timber slabs into a useful tool – a rolling pin! 

Far from an unusual item to make, this will be a solid reminder of Steve’s impromptu pasty lessons he undertook on the island – making some lovely pies with home made flaky pastry (a big task for even the culinary masters among us). Hopefully his culinary skills are going to continue now that he is home and has a shiny new rolling pin…. Steve, I am always here if you need a taster!

Shelley McMurtrie

More than megaherbs: 200 years of vegetation change on subantarctic Campbell Island

Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition

Alex Fergus is giving a talk for the botanical society of Otago about the dramatic vegetation changes over the last 200 years of human occupation of Campbell Island.

The talk is on the 10th August 2011. Find out more at:
http://www.botany.otago.ac.nz/bso/event.php?event_id=255

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