Strategic Initiatives

Speciation and Adaptation in New Zealand Invertebrates

The Speciation and Adaptation in New Zealand Invertebrates strategic initiative focuses on two of the most vital questions in evolutionary biology:
how do new biological species, and the traits within them, arise?
And what part does the environment play?
AWC investigators Thomas Buckley, Richard Newcomb, and Howard Ross are using their combined skills in entomology, population genetics, molecular genetics and bioinformatics to tackle these questions.

The common stick insect and the giant weta have been chosen as model species for the project as they have dramatically different evolutionary histories and will allow different insights into adaptive processes. The use of the latest technologies in next generation sequencing enables this project to target populations at the genomic level, a major step forward from earlier population studies. In addition to gaining important new knowledge of core evolutionary processes, the Speciation and Adaptation in New Zealand Invertebrates project is likely to provide important conservation benefits. Several weta species are considered threatened, and have been little studied. Knowledge of the genetic diversity within weta populations will be used to aid the Department of Conservation’s Giant Weta Recovery Group plan and implement conservation programmes.

Key Benefits

  • Improved management of New Zealand’s endangered giant weta 
  • Development of resources to support the Department of Conservation and the Giant Weta Recovery Group 
  • Development of a model protocol for iwi engagement around genomic sequencing of native biota in the context of WAI262 


Thomas Buckley has developed a teaching resource called ‘The Giant Weta – A New Zealand Taonga’ for students from Years 6-10. This is published in ‘Starters and Strategies’ magazine, Term 3 2012 and can be accessed here.