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Internationally-renowned peat dome under the microscope

Waikato Regional Council and the Department of Conservation (DOC) are funding research to better understand the unique Kopuatai Peat Dome in the Hauraki Plains.

From left:Oliver Overdyck (DOC), Lois Livingston (Waikato regional councillor), Beat
Huser (Waikato Regional Council), Alex Keyte Beattie, Arthur Hinds (Waikato
Conservation Board chairman).

The results of this work by 22-year-old Waikato University student Alex Keyte Beattie will be applied to the preservation and restoration of the peat dome, as well as other wetland sites around the region. 

The Kopuatai Peat Dome is the largest peat bog in New Zealand and is an internationally recognised site of considerable conservation value. Its ecosystem supports biodiversity by providing habitats for species with very specific requirements, acts as a natural filter for running water, provides flood controls and a sink for atmospheric carbon. 

It’s also home to the giant cane rush, a plant growing in only three places in the world, all in the Waikato, but most abundant in Kopuatai. 

Ms Keyte Beattie, winner of the Dr Stella Frances Scholarship, said these bogs are highly sensitive to disturbance and environmental change, and are important conservation sites in New Zealand. 

“Insight into the unique characteristics of these bogs is extremely important to ensure they are well managed and preserved. 

“My thesis aims to combine a variety of methods to address a lack of research into the link between the properties of Kopuatai bog’s vegetation canopy and its moisture and carbon budgets. 

“Since bogs are water-saturated ecosystems, understanding their hydrology is critical for understanding their function.” Ms Keyte Beattie said previous research has found that evaporation rates at Kopuatai bog are much lower than those found at bogs around the world, and this “might be a key property allowing peat development at a relatively low latitude compared to northern hemisphere bogs”. 

“This understanding will contribute to our knowledge of the sensitivity of these ecosystems to environmental change. The broader applications of this research include providing a baseline knowledge of ecosystem function to inform future restoration efforts,” Ms Keyte Beattie said. 

“Wetlands were once widespread throughout lowland Waikato, but only 25 per cent of their original area remain,” said Waikato Regional Council’s sustainability programme manager, Beat Huser. 

“Today, wetlands are recognised as valuable ecosystems that provide a number of services, such as filtering sediment, buffering flooding and harbouring special plants and animals. Alexandra’s work will help us to better manage and understand the remaining peat bogs in the Waikato.” 

Waikato regional councillor Lois Livingston said, “The Kopuatai bog is registered as a wetland of international significance, and Alexandra is committed to her work being used to benefit the Waikato and New Zealand environments. Her research complements existing priorities at the university, Crown research institutes, DOC and Waikato Regional Council. 

“Alex has demonstrated a clear understanding of her project and how it fits within the rest of the research team. And It’s a credit to her that she’s able to explain complex science issues in simple terms and within the bigger picture,” Cr Livingston said. 

Waikato Conservation Board chair Arthur Hinds added, "Alex is a very worthy recipient of this scholarship. She has an outstanding academic record which clearly demonstrates her passion and commitment for the environment and her work will be of direct relevance to future wetland management in the Waikato region.”  

Work on Ms Keyte Beattie’s thesis began last November and will continue throughout 2013. 

The Dr Stella Frances Scholarship was initiated in 2005 in memory of the well-known and highly respected environmentalist, regional councillor and conservator for DOC who died in August 2003. 

The $5000 grant is awarded to defray the expenses of masters-level research and study in the fields of natural and physical sciences, human perspectives on the environment, environment management practice or economics and technologies.

 

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