Strategic Initiatives


Hidden Treasure - A New Zealand Genomic Observatory


The ‘Hidden Treasure’ Strategic Initiative, co-ordinated by PI Dr Nicola Nelson, was launched in 2010. This ambitious and exciting project brings together scientists from across the AWC with several external collaborators. It fosters strong relationships with end users and community parties including the Department of Conservation (DOC), the Auckland Regional Council, Ngāti Manuhiri and Ngātiwai. The project aims to establish a ‘genomic observatory’ on Te Hauturu-o-Toi (Little Barrier Island), New Zealand’s first nature reserve and home to many of our endangered native species within its relatively untouched native forest.

A key aim of the project is to develop new efficient and cost-effective methods for ecological monitoring by DOC. Traditional methods are labour-intensive, using a variety of techniques such as pitfall traps, nets and recorders to capture information. AWC PhD student Andrew Dopheide (University of Auckland) is examining the use of soil samples as an alternative monitoring method. Dopheide is using the soil samples from Hauturu to recover genetic evidence of all the organisms present – from microorganisms who live in the soil to DNA shed by animals moving above the surface.

Work on collating and analysing other aspects of the data sampled on Hauturu is being carried out in laboratories at the University of Auckland, Landcare Research and Plant and Food Research. A relational database to securely store all the field, laboratory, genomic and photographic data for the project was designed in 2012 and is now up and running.

Key Benefits 

  • New technologies for estimating biodiversity directly from environmental substrates such as soil and leaf-litter
  • New information technologies for managing and analysing this type of data which will be of strong international interest
  • Comprehensive biodiversity assessments to guide conservation management and ecological restoration

Read more about the Hidden Treasures project in this excerpt from Pheno, the AWC newsletter.
Listen to Nicky Nelson describing the Hidden Treasures project, and her work with tuatara, on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon program, 7 November 2012.