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Modelling for transport policy interventions

Modelling for transport policy interventions

19 October 2021

Julie Mugford is applying the skills that she learned through her doctoral project with Te Pūnaha Matatini to a career across the public service.

As she entered the final year of her PhD in 2020, Julie Mugford spotted an advertisement for a role with the Ministry of Transport.

Julie had just completed an internship with the Ministry of Social Development, to see whether she enjoyed working in the public sector. She had found it a good fit, and when she saw a job available with ‘agent-based modelling’ in the description, she jumped at the chance.

From May 2020 to September 2021, Julie worked as a data analyst on the team that is creating an agent-based model of the Aotearoa New Zealand transport system.

“It has the whole New Zealand transport network,” explains Julie. “All the roads and public transport options, cycleways and footpaths. Then it has a population of typical New Zealanders with their activities that they want to do during the day, such as going to school or to work.”

“They decide what time of the day they’re going to go and what mode they’re going to use. The aim of the model is to be able to change policy settings – for example, road pricing – and see what affect it has on transport behaviour and assessing the social and environmental impacts of such changes.”

This is new territory for transport policy in Aotearoa New Zealand. Small detailed modelling tasks and larger scale aggregated modelling are already in use, but Julie is not aware of any agent-based modelling being used here. She notes that this approach has already been successfully applied in London, Melbourne, and some European countries.

Julie’s PhD project in applied mathematics looked at citizen science, where members of the public help scientists gather and analyse various forms of information. The central question of her project was whether scientists could get useful insight out of noisy, biased citizen science data.

She worked with her Te Pūnaha Matatini supervisors to develop methods to improve the reliability of data collected or analysed by members of the public through platforms like iNaturalist.

Being involved in Te Pūnaha Matatini and Te Pūnaha Matatini Whānau was the highlight of Julie’s PhD experience.

“Te Pūnaha Matatini is full of so many amazing people,”she says. “It was a welcoming environment, and the interdisciplinary focus of Te Pūnaha Matatini added more depth to my PhD than I could have ever imagined when I signed up to a PhD at the University of Canterbury School of Mathematics and Statistics.”

She says that there was always a lot of variation in the speakers and activities that the Whānau organised, and serving as the chair was a great opportunity to develop leadership experience while studying.

Julie is enjoying working in the public sector and plans to explore working at different ministries over time. She recently continued this journey by accepting a role as a Senior Analyst at the Ministry of Health.

“I like working in the public sector. It’s really great how there are these big problems that I can work on and they actually require all the experience that I’ve gathered from my education.”


Making a global impact in predicting and preventing pandemics

Making a global impact in predicting and preventing pandemics

11 October 2021

Professor David Hayman made a global impact in 2020 with his contributions to the report on biodiversity and pandemics by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

David Hayman is an epidemiologist and Principal Investigator at Te Pūnaha Matatini who uses multidisciplinary approaches to address how infectious diseases are maintained within their hosts and how the process of emergence occurs.

Dave has spent a long time working on emerging infectious diseases and bats, making him a natural candidate for Aotearoa New Zealand to put forward when the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) put out a call for nominations for an expert panel to produce a report on the interactions between biodiversity and human drivers of disease emergence.

The report on escaping the ‘era of pandemics’ was produced at pace during a week-long virtual workshop to review the scientific evidence on the origin, emergence and impact of COVID-19 and other pandemics, as well as on options for controlling and preventing pandemics.

Dave now sits on the One Health High Level Expert Panel (OHHLEP), a high-level expert panel that gives advice across four international agencies: the World Health Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the United Nations Environmental Programme.

He says that the IPBES report has been influential across these agencies, and is often referred to. “We are a high level expert panel that provides expertise and advice to these major global organisations about how they can work better together,” he says. “And I think the IPBES report has actually influenced that.”

The IPBES report has been an important step in these four agencies coming to terms with the complexity and interrelatedness of disease and the environment, and they are recognising the need to address these issues in a transdisciplinary way.

“There’s a lot of things from Te Pūnaha Matatini and working in Aotearoa New Zealand that influenced my contributions to the report. There’s lots I’ve Iearned from Te Pūnaha Matatini about style of working and things like respect for Māori and Indigenous knowledge.”

Dave describes himself as both a pessimist and an optimist as we face a future of increasing pandemics and the effects of climate change.

“It can seem all bad,” he says. “But on the plus side a lot of the drivers for climate change, biodiversity crises and extinction crises are the same as the things that are driving disease emergence. So we can potentially have win, win solutions.”

“We can look at things like reducing industrial-scale trafficking of wildlife or agricultural encroachment into rainforest, both of which are bad for the environment and may also be bad for human health.”

“You can potentially reduce one risk and improve things in another way.”

Dave concludes that tackling these issues will require quite big societal changes, but “what COVID-19 did show is that you can do large-scale stuff. You can shut down whole countries. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but it showed us the scale and pace at which societies can change and adapt.”


A biosecurity risk framework for forestry in Aotearoa New Zealand

A biosecurity risk framework for forestry in Aotearoa New Zealand

8 October 2021

In her role with Scion, Dr Rebecca Turner is working with stakeholders in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally using data to predict biosecurity risk.

Dr Rebecca Turner joined Scion as a postgraduate fellow in 2018, co-funded by the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge and Te Pūnaha Matatini. In 2020 she was promoted to a full-time biosecurity scientist.

Scion is a Crown research institute that specialises in research, science and technology development for the forestry, wood product, wood-derived materials, and other biomaterial sectors.

“My postdoc led directly into this role,” says Rebecca. “It created the opportunity for me to get to know Scion systems, plus New Zealand researchers and international collaborators through Te Pūnaha Matatini.

“Crown research institutes focus on applied science for the sectors they serve, so publishing reports for industry use is important. Having the postdoc and the TPM funding helped me build academic credibility by publishing papers.”

Rebecca’s background is in ecology, molecular biology and mathematical modelling. She is interested in research using mathematical techniques to understand biology and other applications.

Rebecca was involved with Te Pūnaha Matatini Whānau during her postdoctoral fellowship, and appreciated building her network at our Annual Hui each year. She also contributed to our Mycoplasma bovis response, working with data from the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) system that tracks cattle movement around New Zealand.

At Scion, Rebecca’s initial project explored the potential of using border interception data to predict arrivals and establishments of invasive pests in New Zealand. She says that the team hopes to be able to use border interception data to warn people what invasive species to look out for in orchards and forests.

The project quickly became complicated and grew to include international interception data, and Rebecca is now working with the United States Forest Service on an extension of this project looking at data about beetles, which include large groups of potential forestry pests.

“Although we’re really good at biosecurity in New Zealand and we’ve got a really good rate of interceptions and getting them down to species level relative to our population size, we’re still a small country, and we can only collect a certain amount of data. So we then started working with international stakeholders to get interception data from other countries as well.”

Three years in, they are now in a place where they have all the data, have started analysing it, and are starting to see where some of that data is useful for predicting establishments.

“In New Zealand forestry the major plant species that we have is Pinus radiata, so we’re looking for insects that are associated with Pinus radiata, and trying to predict which are going to establish in New Zealand, using things like interception data and climate matching.”

“We’re creating a biosecurity risk framework specifically for the forestry industry. I’m also collaborating with AgResearch and Plant & Food Research through Better Border Biosecurity (B3) to create frameworks for the agricultural industry and the pasture industry.”

Find out more about Rebecca

Complexity is at the heart of Te Pūnaha Matatini

Complexity is at the heart of Te Pūnaha Matatini

Photo: New director of Te Pūnaha Matatini, Associate Professor Cilla Wehi (R) with new deputy director Dr Mike O’Sullivan (L).

1 July 2021

The next phase of Te Pūnaha Matatini begins today, as Associate Professor Cilla Wehi takes over as our new director.

Cilla has bold aims to build upon the transdisciplinary community that was created under the leadership of founding director Professor Shaun Hendy. “It’s done really well up until now and I think we want to build on that,” she says.

“Our aim is to reimagine what research looks like, and provide a platform to make intellectual leaps that are important here in Aotearoa New Zealand, but also globally.”

Te Pūnaha Matatini is a transdisciplinary Centre of Research Excellence in complex systems that brings together researchers throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

New deputy director Dr Mike O’Sullivan agrees that “Te Pūnaha Matatini has built a really great community. The value of that community wasn’t well understood until COVID-19 hit, and then its value became quickly apparent at an international level.”

Shaun’s tenure as inaugural director culminated with Te Pūnaha Matatini receiving the 2020 Prime Minister’s Science Prize for our work developing a series of mathematical models, analysing data and communicating the results to inform the New Zealand Government’s world-leading response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The success of this work very publicly validated the emphasis that Te Pūnaha Matatini has placed on values, expertise and communication since our establishment in 2015.

Cilla says that she wants to build upon this foundation to continue to contribute to positive societal change. “We’ve got data analytics to create new knowledge for transformative change and we’ve got a vision of the kind of society that we would like to be part of in the future.”

Researchers in Te Pūnaha Matatini’s community often work in the gaps between disciplines, which is where Cilla says the most exciting ideas often emerge.

“Te Pūnaha Matatini has intellectual curiosity, and we’ve got a suite of tools that can be used to address some of the big challenges that New Zealand faces globally, so we really can push out boundaries.”

Mike is excited about supporting Cilla in her leadership role. “Cilla has clear ideas about the things she wants to do,” says Mike. “But she’s good at listening as well.”

“And she’s not afraid to agitate a little bit.”


Photo: Te Pūnaha Matatini Kaumātua Associate Professor Tom Roa.

Another fundamental source of support for Cilla in this leadership role is the wisdom and guidance of Te Pūnaha Matatini Kaumātua, Associate Professor Tom Roa.

“I’ve known Tom a long time,” says Cilla. “He’s the most fantastic person to discuss ideas with because he has really deep insight, and brings a wealth of knowledge from Māori contexts that has relevance and can really help us to see the best path forward.”

Tom shared a kōrero from his iwi Ngatī Maniapoto that underpins Te Pūnaha Matatini’s approach. When the kawau (shag or cormorant) flock for flight, they form an arrow shape, which allows them to collectively punch through headwinds. As leaders tire, those behind them move up to the front.

Cilla explains that “if you align yourselves as a group then you can punch through these difficult problems in a way that you could never do as one person alone. But also, when the leading birds get tired they step back and others come forward. So we’re growing people to step up. This is a group effort, and we are in it together.”

One of the key purposes of Te Pūnaha Matatini is to develop new researchers.

Cilla explains that “it’s become really clear over the last few years how important it is to do not only collaborative research but ethical research. There’s a much stronger focus now on working in partnership with our communities, and on our responsibility to communicate evidence. So we want to train researchers who are collaborative and ethical, and are great at both working with data and working with people.”

“It’s about contributing to future research, but also the future of Aotearoa New Zealand.”

“Complexity is at our heart,” concludes Cilla. “We build community across disciplines to solve complex problems.”

Dr Andrea Byrom honoured to accept new role as kairangi

Dr Andrea Byrom honoured to accept new role as kairangi

Ecologist and science leader Dr Andrea Byrom has accepted a role as kairangi in Te Pūnaha Matatini.

Kairangi is a Māori word meaning ‘the finest pounamu’, which can be used to describe a person held in high esteem. This role acknowledges the important contributions of our senior colleagues.

Dr Andrea Byrom has been involved with Te Pūnaha Matatini as an associate investigator since the early days, and has contributed at many hui and supervised several early career researchers. She is currently co-supervising Te Pūnaha Matatini Whānau member Julie Mugford in the final stages of her thesis, alongside Associate Professor Alex James and Professor Michael Plank.

The project that Andrea is most proud of being involved with at Te Pūnaha Matatini was exploring the biodiversity benefits of large-scale pest control regimes with Dr Rachelle Binny. Their work quantified significant benefits for biodiversity from pest control over two decades. Andrea says that “I’m proud to have contributed to that research because it really demonstrated how important science is to the environment, and why we do large-scale conservation efforts like pest control or ecological restoration.”

She also particularly enjoyed collaborating with Professor Shaun Hendy and a group of summer interns on network analyses of the many types of people and organisations involved in environmental protection in Aotearoa. “That was a real introduction to network analyses and some of the things Te Pūnaha Matatini had to offer that I had not previously thought of applying to te taiao the environment.”

Andrea recently resigned from her role as director of Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge. She has been working in the New Zealand science system since joining Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research as a postdoctoral researcher in 1997.

Over two decades working at Manaaki Whenua Andrea moved away from directly doing her own research and into leadership roles, after becoming interested in how science leadership could empower scientists to do their work, rather than add more bureaucracy to their lives.

She says that she “really loved that leadership style”.

“What I liked most about being a director of a National Science Challenge was having a view across all of the amazing talent that we have in the New Zealand science system.”

Her directorial responsibilities meant that Andrea did not have as much time as she would like to devote to Te Pūnaha Matatini in recent years. “I’ve been on a separate journey from Te Pūnaha Matatini for the last wee while, so to come back in as a kairangi now is quite an honour.”

“In the last few years, my interests have broadened to thinking about how we take our Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership role seriously as scientists, and how we bring mātauranga Māori and kaupapa Māori research methods to the fore. I worked hard to facilitate a lot of that via the National Science Challenge and ended up in a co-director role in that area with Melanie Mark-Shadbolt.”

“I feel like the tide’s turning and that people are starting to listen. But it’s really important to put different perspectives and stories out there.”

After a demanding period as a director, Andrea is focusing on spending more time with her partner, as well as doing environment consultancy work and board roles. “I’m particularly interested in how important governance is to science and the environment. That’s my new passion, and as a kairangi I would like to contribute where I can – particularly around complex environmental research.”

“I love being a sounding board for students and I love coming to hui where there are great minds contributing things that I hadn’t thought of and ideas that I’m interested in.”

Since stepping back as a director, Andrea and her partner have been making the most of their time together by killing of a large amount of lawn on their half-hectare property in mid-Canterbury and replanting it with over 5,000 native plants.

How to kill your lawn with Andrea Byrom

  1. Acquire large quantities of cardboard boxes and flatten them
  2. Lay cardboard over lawn on non-windy day
  3. Cover cardboard with a whole lot of mulch
  4. Water it all down
  5. Leave for two months
  6. Replant with native plants


Long-term biodiversity trajectories for pest-managed ecological restorations: eradication vs. suppression – Ecological Monographs

Prime Minister recognises transformative science

Prime Minister recognises transformative science

The 2020 Prime Minister’s Science Prize has been awarded to Te Pūnaha Matatini for our contribution to Aotearoa New Zealand’s COVID-19 response.

The Prime Minister’s Science Prize is awarded for transformative science which has had a significant economic, health, social or environmental impact.

Te Pūnaha Matatini are being recognised for our work that developed a series of mathematical models, analysed data and communicated the results to inform the New Zealand Government’s world-leading response to the global pandemic.

Te Pūnaha Matatini is a Centre of Research Excellence funded by the Tertiary Education Commission and hosted by the University of Auckland. Over the past six years, Te Pūnaha Matatini has grown from the kernel of an idea into a diverse national network of over a hundred investigators and students who are tackling the interconnected and deeply interdisciplinary challenges of our time. Our values, expertise and focus on communication made us uniquely positioned to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Te Pūnaha Matatini’s modelling was key in helping the government make good decisions about lockdowns, particularly in April and May when the need to relax Alert Levels arrived, and in August, when a tailored lockdown was used in Auckland to eliminate a large outbreak. These public health interventions have had an immense impact on New Zealanders’ lives, not the least of which was preventing a considerable number of deaths due to COVID-19 if the virus had been allowed to spread unimpeded.

“Even I underestimated the centrality of [science] advice for me, in this time in office, and just how important it would become to us as a government.” – Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand

The team made sure their models served the health system by working with Orion Health data scientists to ensure information got to where it was needed. Orion Health works with healthcare sector clients to deploy and manage machine learning models, which meant they were able to offer their technology and processes to support the Te Pūnaha Matatini team.

Te Pūnaha Matatini’s work and related research from around the globe was actively communicated to the public throughout 2020, and several of Te Pūnaha Matatini’s researchers were the most prominent science communicators during the crisis.

“I want to thank the many, many, many people in this room who were a part in your own ways in either helping us generate the information we needed to make those decisions, or who helped us communicate those decisions when it mattered most.” – Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand

The transdisciplinary team working on COVID-19 that received this award brought together researchers from the University of Auckland, University of Canterbury, Victoria University of Wellington, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Market Economics, and Orion Health.

The COVID-19 programme at Te Pūnaha Matatini continues into 2021 with projects focusing on branching process models, complex network models, phylodynamics, and the spread of disinformation and misinformation.

Te Pūnaha Matatini secures future with CoRE funding to 2028

Te Pūnaha Matatini secures future with CoRE funding to 2028

Te Pūnaha Matatini has been successful in its bid to be refunded by the New Zealand Government’s Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) in the recent CoRE round. From 1 July 2021, the Centre’s funding will rise from $2.1 million per annum to $4 million per annum through to the end of 2028. In its announcement, the TEC singled out Te Pūnaha Matatini’s contribution to the COVID-19 response through its modelling of infection spread.

Te Pūnaha Matatini incoming co-directors Priscilla (Cilla) Wehi, a Conservation Biologist with Manaaki Whenua Landcare, and Murray Cox, a Professor of Computational Biology at Massey University, were delighted to hear the news.

“It is amazing to be leading such a strong cohort of researchers who can cross disciplines and address the complexity of systems,” said Cilla. “These ways of thinking will provide real traction in addressing some of the huge problems we are facing globally, and stimulate innovation.”

“We’ve have a lot of impact on New Zealand over the last six years and we’re really looking forward to delivering even more over the next eight,” added Murray.

Director Shaun Hendy, Professor of Physics at the University of Auckland, who has led Te Pūnaha Matatini from its inception in 2013, said the successful rebid was underpinned by a massive team effort.

“[It’s] the culmination of eighteen months of enormously hard work by Kate Hannah, Cilla Wehi, Murray Cox, Kathryn Morgan, and many others,” said Shaun. “It also reflects the commitment of all our investigators, our Whānau, and our friends to Te Pūnaha Matatini’s mission over the last seven years. Congratulations and commiserations to the other applicants, who have also worked hard over the last year or more.”


Catching up at a recent Te Pūnaha Matatini hui at the University of Auckland, our Incoming Co-Directors Cilla Wehi (left) and Murray Cox (centre), and Director Shaun Hendy (right).

How differing animal personalities impact on conservation efforts

How differing animal personalities impact on conservation efforts

Te Pūnaha Matatini researcher Giorgia Vattiato (above) and colleagues, from the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Canterbury, are modelling the effects of individual animal personalities in New Zealand on conservation efforts. The purpose – to answer questions such as why some invasive mammal pests always manage to avoid traps, and what kind of reintroduction measures for Kiwi might help them settle more efficiently.

Enhancing the efficiency of invasive mammal pest trapping

Invasive mammal pests such as stoats, possums and rats represent a major threat to New Zealand’s native birds such as Kiwi. Trapping pests as part of wider eradication efforts has worked well on small offshore islands and fenced-off areas of the mainland. However, a few individual animals always seem to be uncatchable – an issue that has led to a growing need for more robust eradication approaches.

Giorgia’s research looks beyond what we already know about factors that influence the behaviour of animal populations. It is well known, for example, that differences in habitat, predation, food availability, social environment and physiology can all affect animal behaviours (and personalities). Common personality differences include boldness or shyness, activity level, resource selection, sociability, and home range size. These different personalities can affect a population as a whole, but very few population dynamic modelling studies have taken them into consideration.

The study of animal personalities can therefore be seen as an important step towards developing accurate, non-biased models that can better predict the efficiency of different programmes underway in New Zealand that aim to eradicate pests, reintroduce threatened species and protect biodiversity.

This has been the rationale of Giorgia’s research – modelling the effects of individual animal personalities in New Zealand. Together with her Te Pūnaha Matatini supervisors, Dr Rachelle Binny at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Associate Professor Alex James and Professor Michael Plank at the University of Canterbury, plus Associate Professor Isabel Castro at Massey University, she has conducted two different types of projects as part of her PhD study.

The first project involves modelling different scenarios of heterogeneity in a pest population, where individual animals are assigned a different probability of interacting with a newly-found trap (their ‘trapability’). Running simulations of two different pest populations – homogenous (all individuals had the same trapability) and heterogenous (individuals have varying levels of trapability), revealed that it takes much longer to eradicate the latter population than the former.

“One of the outputs of our model is the time that you need to wait to be sure that your population has been completely eradicated,” explained Giorgia. “Usually what a pest manager would do is wait until a number of consecutive nights when there have been no captures. After a certain number of nights, they would say ‘okay, we’re 95% sure that we’ve eradicated the population.’ So what we’ve done is simulated this number of nights to have 95% probability of eradication in different scenarios, and we’ve looked at how long we have to wait. So this is one way our model can be used.”

“The model can be used to predict when to change eradication approaches. At one point the curves start to flatten and tail off as those last few very trap-shy individuals keep evading capture. So the flattening curve could inform a pest manager when to switch to a more intensive eradication mode – one that may be more expensive than the first part of the eradication.”

Different Kiwi behave and react differently in response to being moved

The second project the team are working on aims to identify possible differences in the behaviour of Kiwi populations on Motuarohia Island in the Bay of Islands and Ponui Island in the Hauraki Gulf. One of Giorgia’s supervisors on this project, Isabel Castro, had acquired data from previous years when capturing and recording information about the Kiwi population on Ponui Island.

“Isabel could see how different the birds were – some were very friendly, some were not,” said Giorgia. “But nobody had actually ever looked at the numbers behind that. And so I went with her this year and we did a few experiments. We filmed the Kiwi right after capture, under different circumstances – holding them upside down, looking at them in the eye, whilst also recording their heart beat and respiratory rate, to look for differences between birds. They were so different. Some of them would just fall asleep in your arms, and others would never stop struggling. Some of them would even growl or snap their beak.”

Giorgia Vattiato checks on Kiwi Jaeden on Ponui Island.

Their findings, yet to be published, are expected to be useful for guiding relocation efforts. “Just knowing that the birds have different personalities is something that conservation managers will want to know, especially for situations such as translocations of birds,” explained Giorgia.

Introducing Tom Roa, inaugural kaumātua for Te Pūnaha Matatini

Introducing Tom Roa, inaugural kaumātua for Te Pūnaha Matatini

A hui held at the University of Auckland on 2 July 2019 marked a special moment in the history of Te Pūnaha Matatini – the inauguration of our first ever kaumātua Dr Tom Roa (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato).

Dr Tom Roa, a Tainui leader and Manukura / Associate Professor in the University of Waikato’s Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies, is a familiar figure on marae throughout Tainui and the country. Over the years, Tom has also been a leading figure helping to bring the Māori language into the mainstream, and he is one of the founders of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori movement in the 1970s.

Tom’s appointment as Te Pūnaha Matatini kaumātua enables us to continue to grow a safe and inclusive CoRE for our multicultural team of investigators and students, and maintains our leadership in this particular area within the Aotearoa New Zealand science and research system.

The July hui at the University of Auckland comprised a large gathering of Te Pūnaha Matatini investigators, friends and Whānau from all over New Zealand.

Following a warm mihi whakatau, Te Pūnaha Matatini Incoming Co-Director Cilla Wehi shared stories about her work with Tom over the years and provided some personal insights.

“Matua Tom has a very long research career in linguistics and translation,” said Cilla. “More than that even, he is valued for his immense skills in the Māori world as somebody who has incredible expertise in whaikōrero, in the art of oratory, but who can also cut to the point in a very pithy way.”

Cilla then welcomed Tom to the stage for his keynote speech – ‘He Puna Pūnaha’ – a springboard for ideas in the myriad of theories and systems to be explored.

Tom’s talk was inspiring and it was a privilege to hear him speak. He talked about key concepts and traditions central to mātauranga in a way that his audience, many of whom are relative newcomers to Aotearoa, appreciated immensely. Tom also shared a karakia, a prayer invoking spiritual guidance.

“I have a fascination with how mātauranga Māori and science can be woven together. So TPM fascinates me even more because of the interdisciplinary nature of so many of the projects that I’ve had a glance through,” said Tom.

“When Potatau, the first Māori King was anointed, he said ‘there is but one eye of the needle through which must pass the red, the black and the white threads’. Many people have taken that to mean that it’s about bringing people together,” said Tom. “But for TPM, I suggest that you might have a mathematical thread, somebody else might have an ecological thread, somebody might have an economic thread.

“Somebody might have all of these different kinds of threads, along with my Māori thread,” said Tom. “And if we thread those through the eye of the needle, they become something else. They become interweaved, and my suggestion is that if we thread that eye of the needle and if we bring all of that together properly, then we have a new creation – new data, new knowledges, new insights. Through that weaving.”

Researching impact of Moa extinctions on early Māori

Researching impact of Moa extinctions on early Māori

Te Pūnaha Matatini incoming co-directors Priscilla (Cilla) Wehi and Murray Cox have collaborated with Hēmi Whaanga and Te Pūnaha Matatini Kaumātua Tom Roa, from the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato, on an analysis of Māori ancestral sayings (whakataukī), and their recognition of extinctions and their impact.

Cilla, a conservation biologist with Manaaki Whenua Landcare, and Murray, a Professor of Computational Biology at Massey University, co-authored a paper published in the journal Human Ecology, reporting the linguistic analysis of indigenous Māori whakataukī that focus on fauna and environment, particularly with regard to extinctions of important food sources such as Moa. The findings provide evidence that such extinctions were important as they influenced both ecological and social thought in Māori society. The authors also suggest that oral traditions could have played a similar role in other early societies living through major faunal extinction events.

Examples of whakataukī referring to Moa extinction:

Kua ngaro i te ngaro o te moa
Lost as the moa was lost

Huna i te huna a te moa
Hidden as the moa hid

Ka ngaro ā-moa te iwi nei
The people will disappear like the moa

“Oral tradition, such as these whakataukī passed down by Māori, provide our only real glimpses into the ecological relationships and concerns of early settler populations, and provide early human context to an otherwise relatively dry scientific record of extinction events,” the researchers wrote.

“The whakataukī emphasise that indigenous peoples are not simply passive actors against an environmental backdrop but rather interact with the environment in myriad ways that affect not only the species assemblages present but also the development of cultural values, ideas, and practices.”

Cilla and Murray’s work was picked up by The Conversation in an article entitled ‘Dead as a moa: oral traditions show that early Māori recognised extinction’, and in interviews on Radio NZRadio Waatea and TVNZ’s Te Karere.

Link to full paper.