The Model Ecosystem pilot project will test the feasibility of phylogenetically and environmentally characterizing every species in a well-defined New Zealand Model Ecosystem using modern sequencing, informatics, niche modelling and field ecology approaches. The project is a collaboration with the Department of Conservation and iwi and aims to build strong collaborative linkages within the Allan Wilson Centre (AWC) and among international colleagues, and provide a long term research programme structure for collaborative, interdisciplinary student projects at the intersection of ecology, evolutionary biology and genomics.
Such an integrated and comprehensive approach would form the basis for robustly testing questions concerning ecological and evolutionary processes important for (a) conservation management, (b) an improved understanding of the drivers of community assembly and ecosystem health and therefore (c) an understanding of the impact on ecological communities of perturbations such as human modification and climate change. A phylogenetic characterization of the makeup of an ecosystem substantially reduces the labour-intensive and expert-dependent process of taxonomic identification, and opens up new avenues of enquiry about the structure and assembly of the species communities that make up ecosystems. As well as (i) providing the opportunity to discover unforeseen interactions among species from across the full taxonomic range and (ii) developing predictive models of community structure and dynamics, a comprehensive statistical sample of an entire ecosystem will also feed in to the development of standardized sampling techniques, including environmental sampling, as well as the organization and analysis of integrated data sets including genetic, geographic and environmental data in a comprehensive National database and analysis software system for ecosystem genomics.
To understand the goals of the pilot project it might help to understand what the full-scale project might look like and read the overview of the scientific hyphotheses and the alignment with DoC strategic goals.