About

The Landcare Research Long-Term Ecology Laboratory is dedicated to studying long-term ecological processes (over decades to thousands of years) to help further our understanding of the dynamics, function and trajectories of present-day ecosystems.

Using microscopic and ancient DNA analysis of a variety of sample types (including lake, bog, swamp and cave sediments and preserved droppings (coprolites) of extinct birds and introduced animals) we show how ecosystems have changed over time in response to climate change, natural disturbances (volcanism, earthquakes and fire), initial human arrival, and the introduction of alien vertebrates. Analysing coprolites allows us to gain insights into the lives of extinct birds, determining what plants they ate, what flowers they pollinated, and what seeds they dispersed. From this we can determine the role that extinct birds played in prehuman ecosystems, which helps us understand the legacy of their extinction on the functioning of existing forests.

Laboratory facilities

Our international-standard purpose built palaeoecology laboratory suite was completed in 2014. It includes three unique working spaces of increasing sterility.

Subsampling room

For opening, cleaning and subsampling of cores. Stereomicroscopes are set up for the counting of macrofossils like charcoal and plant remains, and for the sorting of sieved cave sediments.

Microfossil preparation laboratory

Where samples collected from peat, lakes, caves, and coprolites are processed for microfossils such as pollen, parasites and testate amoebae. This lab has an adjoining walk-in refrigerated archive where we store all of our cores and samples. In many instances, cores that we have collected from remote locations and that we have radiocarbon-dated and analysed for microfossils become highly valuable, and remain useful if they can be subsampled again at a later date for additional analyses.

Ancient DNA laboratory

A three-room design, providing a clean working space free of any modern DNA where we can extract and work on ancient DNA from our fossil samples (including sediments, coprolites, bone, and various plant and animal macrofossils).

The first room is for staff to change into a sterile working suit, boots, mask and gloves, and for transferring samples through an UV radiation pass-through box to the next room.

The second room is for grinding, milling and sample preparation.

The third room is used only for extracting ancient DNA from the samples and setting up polymerase chain reactions (PCRs) (in separate still-air hoods).

Each night all lab surfaces and equipment are automatically decontaminated by being exposed to 2 hours of UV light. The air intake for the lab is hepa-filtered, UV-treated and maintains positive pressure to ensure no modern DNA can enter the lab via air vents or windows.