Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
My name is Andrew Skaggs, and I'm a senior from Acton, Massachusetts. A year ago, I applied for a travel enrichment grant for research I conducted during the Spring semester of 2011 at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. New Zealand has an incredibly unique natural history and fascinating biological diversity due to its extreme geographic isolation. My area of biological interest is studying the biology of small populations of organisms that evolve in isolation, which applies perfectly to the nation's isolation and diverse flora and fauna. New Zealand harbors a wealth of biodiversity that is found nowhere else on earth, is an epicenter for birding and ornithology research, marine mammalian science, and contains every biome ranging from alpine tundra to blazing desert all within a relatively small landmass. It is an interesting case study for the introduction of invasive species, which is another pivotal field in the realm of wildlife conservation.
Last spring I had the privilege of traveling to New Zealand for 5 months where I studied at the University of Otago. Throughout the semester I kept a natural history journal using field guides and dichotomous keys to create a moderate representation of New Zealand's wildlife. I traveled throughout the North Island my first month, hiking and documenting species throughout Tongariro National Park, Taupo, and Whitianga. I developed an interest for tree ferns, and was amazed by the diversity of other bryophytes. My favorite memory on the North Island was hiking the Tongariro crossing, which is the volcano used for Mt. Doom in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The majority of the trail is above tree line, and as elevation increases the rocks structures become more and more bizarre from ancient lava cooling. At one point the trail goes over a knife edge volcanic ridge overlooking turquoise alpine lakes before it descends down into a lush tree fern canopy. The country is gorgeous.
I kept my field notebook with me on all trips, and as I traveled to the South Island, I noticed vast differences in species distribution and biodiversity. The Otago peninsula in Dunedin represents the world's only nesting site for the Royal albatross, a wandering seabird with a 10 foot wing span that can spend years at sea before returning to land. Fur seals and sea lions were common on many beaches, as well as blue and yellow eyed penguins. After viewing these species in the wild, I would take initial field notes, then write a more formal report including scientific name, habitat, distribution, feeding preferences, and behavior sometimes incorporating a sketch or photograph. On hikes throughout Firordland National Park I would pick ferns and intriguing plants attempting to sketch and identify them at campsites
This field book pressured me to set out and explore beautiful, unique, and rare ecosystems. I wanted to get an accurate representation of the major species that exist in varying habitat. I think that my book, A Guide to the Natural History of New Zealand, is an excellent representation of the major birds, mammals, trees, ferns, and some fungi species native to New Zealand.