Classroom gives ecosystem insight

University of Otago students and teachers (from left) Tim Currie, Blake Hornblow, Millie...
University of Otago students and teachers (from left) Tim Currie, Blake Hornblow, Millie Mannering, Katie Nelson, Gretchen McCarthy, co-ordinator Dr Anna Wood, co-ordinator Prof Steve Wing, Yuta Tamberg and Joe Curtis are turning a Portobello site on Otago Peninsula into a living laboratory as well as a habitat restoration project. PHOTO: GUY FREDERICK
The University of Otago has started planting Crown land on Otago Peninsula as it creates an outdoor classroom to study native ecosystems.

The planting, undertaken in conjunction with the Otago Peninsula Biodiversity Group and Save the Otago Peninsula, will cover some of the 19ha of land the university leases, primarily to access the nearby Portobello Marine Laboratory.

From next year, Prof Steve Wing and Dr Anna Wood will lead an ecology paper on site, "ecology and the conservation of diversity".

"The vision is to restore the coastal habitat to a healthy state," Prof Wing said yesterday.

But there was a series of goals, he said.

One of those was to use the habitat that students created as a field laboratory.

Prof Wing said one of the principles of ecology was diverse ecosystems were more productive.

"Diversity allows us to basically survive environmental change," he said. "Plus diversity is just cool."

The programme allowed for about 1200 plants a year to be planted in the area over the next two years.

There would be about a dozen species planted including 75 kahikatea and 65 totara, but some of the smaller species including Coprosma propinqua were of particular interest.

Not only did the dense native shrubs provide habitat for native fauna on the peninsula, it was understood the plants created buffers in temperatures, important for microclimates, Prof Wing said.

At the heart of the programme would be intense monitoring of the area. Everything from pest incursions to temperatures across the site would be scrutinised.

One focus of the paper would be the connections between a changing ocean and coastal ecosystems, Prof Wing said.

Automated temperature sensors dispersed over the area would provide data that would be compared to the daily water temperatures measured at the wharf, to determine any impacts on ecological productivity and biodiversity, he said.

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