I am interested in promoting the study and application of molecular ecology by proposing hands-on experiences and developing participatory science projects that are community-focused.
This page presents the teaching activities, science outreach events and professional workshops that I have been offering in New Zealand and in the Pacific region.
To keep up to date with my activities, follow me on twitter: @Zelpapang
barcoding NZ Whitebait
Developing DNA-based tools to conserve New Zealand whitebait
Whitebait are the juveniles of five native species of galaxiid fish that migrate from the sea upstream in spring. Three of these species are considered to be declining, a fourth is classified as threatened and only one is of least conservation concern. However, juvenile forms cannot be identified morphologically and all five species are caught and sold under the name whitebait and end up in our plates.
The aim of this project is to develop a DNA-based diagnostic test to identify the different species of whitebait and to detect the presence of threatened or declining species in whitebait and in streams. By doing so, we hope to help protect the declining and threatened species of whitebait. I wrote a short letter about whitebait for the journal Science in 2016: Political priorities.
This project is conducted in collaboration with students of Kauri Flat School. In a world first, we recently extracted environmental DNA from the mucus of juvenile whitebait at the school. The next step is to detect whitebait DNA from water, first in a tank and then from streams.
For this project, funding has been obtained from The Royal Society of New Zealand, Unitec Institute of Technology and CALTEX Australia. Live fish have been kindly provided by the Mahurangi Technical Institute.
Studying the diet of wētā to design wētā friendly primary schools
The Wētā Watcher project aims to engage students from primary schools in South Auckland to carry out a research project on the ecology and conservation of tree wētā. Wētā are a well-known and iconic group of New Zealand insects and are useful indicators of environmental health and in particular the effects of exotic predators.
The project proposes to use wētā motels, which are wooden refugia that simulate natural galleries used by wētā and other invertebrates in trees. They have a hole that is big enough to let wētā in, but too small for its predators (mice, rats). Wētā motels constitute a tool for the conservation of wētā, but also for the monitoring of these animals and for science outreach.
The project aims at monitoring the presence of tree wētā on the schools' grounds and determine their diet by carrying out DNA analyses of their droppings.
56 little scientists from three Auckland schools have been participating in the project. The project was featured on Māori TV and presented as a poster at the New Zealand Ecological Society Conference in 2016.
This project was funded by SouthSci a branch of the Curious Mind programme. Further funding is currently being sought to extend the project at national scale.
Molecular genetics and evolution at UNITEC (NSCI 6748)
In 2016, I launched a new course in Molecular Genetics and Evolution as part of the Bachelor of Applied Science at Unitec Institute of Technology.
The course aims to explore the genetic basis of evolution; to acquire practical skills in basic molecular analysis; to assess how the study of genetics and the use of molecular tools can inform biodiversity conservation, animal breeding, animal welfare and our understanding of evolutionary ecology.
It is a second year level course, with a large component of hands-on practicals in the DNA laboratory and tutorials in a computer laboratory. From 2017, the course will include using the portable DNA laboratory BentoLab and the electronic lab book sciNote.
Find more information on the course here: NSCI 6748
5 minute DNA analyses, no experience required
Explorama 2015 was a free event organised by the Auckland Museum, where a range of activities around biodiversity were proposed to visitors in the atrium of the museum.
I had a stall on DNA analyses and taught young visitors the art of pipetting. We also prepared liquid earthworm, practiced DNA extraction using the portable DNA laboratory
BentoLab and looked at DNA bands under blue light in an agarose gel.
DNA barcoding workshop
Capability building in the South Pacific (Fiji)
In 2016, I offered a DNA barcoding workshop at the University of South Pacific in Suva, Fiji.
The workshop comprised half a week of lectures, laboratory-based practicals and computer-based tutorials on DNA barcoding. The second part of the workshop focused on the use of GIS and was lead by my colleague Glenn Aguilar from Unitec Institute of Technology.
This workshop was funded by Unitec Institute of Technology as part of the MADII project. We are currently applying for further funding to deliver this workshop on a regular basis.
Introducing DNA-based identification to the public
Since 2009, I have been involved in four Bioblitz and Ecoblitz in New Zealand. During these events, the public is asked to participate to a 24h inventory of all living things on a chosen site. Participants collect plants, animals and fungi and bring specimens to scientists who can help with taxonomic identification. Listen to the RadioNZ segment about our 2015 Ecoblitz. These events are great vehicles to introduce the use of molecular ecology to the general public. I published a short letter about Bioblitz in the journal Science in 2017: Nature's treasure hunt.
Weta project DNA with Stephane