Tāmaki Innovation Campus

Joint role balancing act brings double benefits

Dr Thomas Buckley collecting giant weta on Mount Farrady.
Dr Thomas Buckley in his element, collecting giant weta on Mount Farrady in the Paparoa Range.

Thomas Buckley divides his time between Landcare Research and the University of Auckland, as a member of the Joint Graduate School for Biodiversity and Biosecurity.

At Landcare Research his work involves leadership of invertebrate systematics and the New Zealand Arthropod Collection. And, for 20% of his time, as Associate Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, he supervises graduate students within the Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour research section, and is also a Programme Leader for New Zealand's Biological Heritage National Science Challenge.

On reading his CV, you could be forgiven for thinking, if it is weta or stick insect based, then Buckley’s your man. He describes his interests: “New Zealand offers an ideal system from which to investigate speciation and evolution of adaptation, due to the large degree of habitat variability that has developed rapidly within the recent geological past.”

“We are using whole genomes, transcriptomes and SNP data to understand how insects have evolved adaptations to thrive in the recently formed alpine zone, particularly stick insects. We are also interested in speciation on offshore islands and are applying whole genomes and SNP data to island species and populations of weta and stick insects,” he says.

He admits to having a lifelong interest in stick insects, searching them out in his Wellington backyard and on bushes. He found them intriguing and this childhood fascination eventually led to an honours project at Victoria University before his present job at Landcare Research.

Recent field research around Cape Reinga saw his team discover a whole new genus of stick insect. “It was only in one small patch of bush, and they have been classified by DOC as Nationally Critical,” he says.

But it’s the association with the University of Auckland’s Tāmaki Campus that he regards as a counterfoil to the world of Landcare. “I really enjoy working with graduates on the applied research projects, and often the origins of projects across institutional boundaries.”

“At Landcare Research we lean towards both the applied and scientific aspect of a project, whereas the students have the time and enthusiasm to tackle a problem and find innovative solutions that make a big difference to the outcome.

“The relationship between Landcare Research and the University of Auckland allows us to draw students into projects, which strengthens those projects and gives the students a unique experience.”

He says the joint role between the two institutions is a balancing act, but a beneficial one. Landcare Research’s projects and funding marries with the University’s crop of graduate students to create different perspectives.