Alex Boast (PhD candidate, University of Auckland)

Project: Prehistoric ecology of kakapo from coprolites

I have a broad range of interests including conservation biology, paleobiology, ecology, biogeography and evolutionary biology, but am especially focused on using DNA to shed light on animal behaviour, ancient ecosystems and past environmental changes. This includes using environmental DNA to investigate centuries-old species interactions, to multi-species phylogenies to elucidate the break-up of Gondwana millions of years ago. A major interest is revealing the nature of pre-human ecologies, especially for New Zealand.

I completed both my BSc (Marine Biology & Ecology) and MSc (Ecology & Biodiversity) at Victoria University at my home town in Wellington. This has been followed by a brief role as an assistant research fellow at Otago University, followed by a two-year MPhil studying at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) in Adelaide. Over this time I have had the chance to become involved in a range of projects, ranging from paleoecology, phylogenetics and population genetics using both ancient and modern DNA. In addition I have also had brief involvements with primate conservation and entomology field work in Borneo and Costa Rica respectively, and have worked with marine biology collections in the NIWA Invertebrate Collection (NIC) in Wellington.

I am enrolled at the University of Auckland but based at the LTEL, researching the paleoecology of the critically endangered kakapo. Despite the critically endangered status of the bird today, evidence suggests that the kakapo was once abundant throughout New Zealand. More than any other threatened New Zealand’s bird, extinct kakapo populations have left a rich record of behaviour and species-interactions in the form of coprolites (preserved faeces). My project will use ancient DNA Next Generation Sequencing methods and microfossil analyses of coprolites to shed new information on prehistoric kakapo diet, ecological function and general behavioural ecology that will contribute to a deeper understanding of modern kakapo ecology and conservation.

See my University of Auckland website here.