Lincoln researcher is awarded Marsden Fund grant for biosecurity work

Lincoln University lecturer Dr Amanda Black has been awarded a three-year grant from the Marsden Fund to explore how Māori knowledge can improve New Zealand biosecurity.

Invasions of unwanted organisms are rising globally as a result of increased global trade, tourism and climate change,. One in five plant species is at risk of extinction.

Dr Black says there are more ramifications for Māori and other indigenous groups than economic loss from the introduction and spread of invasive species than economic loss.

She says:

“Invasive species can also displace or destroy indigenous species and threaten the identity and functioning of indigenous cultures, by negatively impacting food gathering or ceremonial practices for example.”

The research project, ‘Reindigenising the Biosecurity System’, will use a range of interdisciplinary methods to explore what biosecurity means for Māori, using kauri dieback disease as an example. The disease, caused by a plant pathogen that was first detected in New Zealand in the 1950s, is damaging and killing kauri, from seedlings to mature iconic trees. It is currently spreading through the few remaining fragments of ancient forest in Northland.

“Kauri is an ancient, long-lived species and is at great risk of disappearing from our landscape and living memory,” says Dr Black. “Kauri trees are valued highly as a taonga, or treasured plant, by all New Zealanders, but have a specific role as tuakana (elder sibling), with a senior ancestral lineage and relationship for Northland Māori.”

The project will explore how indigenous knowledge, from past and present, combined with traditional science disciplines and social research can help protect kauri forests from modern biosecurity risks and threats.

“The extensive and profound knowledge that indigenous people have from a long-standing and intimate relationship with their environment is often overlooked by recent colonists, and presents a unique and innovative opportunity to improve current biosecurity paradigms and policy,” says Dr Black.

Her research will also compare how the cultural identity, perspectives and priorities of other indigenous peoples can be integrated in countries facing similar issues, an approach which could transform mainstream biosecurity research here and internationally.

The Marsden Fund supports excellence in leading-edge research in New Zealand. Projects are selected annually after a rigorous peer-review process. This year a total of 117 projects were funded and have been allocated $65.2 million.

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