THE NEW ZEALAND PROJECT: ECOSYSTEMS OF THE SOUTHERN PACIFIC
Join us this fall as we explore the isolated and captivating islands of New Zealand. Traveling through remote areas to investigate the remarkable wilderness found in this unique land, we will embark upon a firsthand exploration of New Zealand’s globally distinctive ecosystems, endemic plant and animal species, and intertwined human and natural histories.
New Zealand provides an excellent setting for interdisciplinary field study due to its rich diversity of environments that stem from a fascinating geologic past. Formed 80 million years ago as an isolated fragment that drifted away from the ancient supercontinent Gondwanaland, New Zealand’s flora and fauna evolved in the absence of terrestrial mammals. This unique situation resulted in an incredibly diverse array of plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. Here, in a relatively compact area, subtropical rainforests give way to steaming volcanoes, majestic alp-like peaks, and miles of wild coastal beaches opening to the South Pacific and Tasman Sea. New Zealanders themselves are also a diverse lot. With a rare mix of English, Scottish, and Polynesian backgrounds, they have a dynamic relationship with the resources and wild inhabitants of the New Zealand isles. We will have the opportunity to examine how this relationship affects delicate ecological balances and the management of island natural resources.
Our journey is a timely one as well, in that these isolated South Pacific Islands face a new era of growth and change. New Zealanders, much like Americans, are recognizing the vulnerability of the environment, and no culture experiences the limits and possibilities of its environment more intensely than an island nation. Today, against a background of new concerns, the people of New Zealand are taking a hard look at their social, political, economic, and environmental priorities.
Our project affords us a rare opportunity for hands-on field studies in New Zealand. Team members will examine island ecology through firsthand investigations of the region’s flora, fauna, and geography. Together we will participate directly in key conservation and restoration projects, investigate on-site natural resource management policies and options, and work with local organizations on issues concerning animal reintroduction and invasive species management.
Special attention will be paid to exploring the history and current state of the dynamic interactions that exist between New Zealanders and their environment. Together we will assess what the early Polynesians found when they reached New Zealand and what has happened since. In a variety of settings we will discover how ties between human culture and the natural landscape manifest and how cultural conflicts and cooperation among European and Polynesian New Zealanders have developed over time.
Throughout our field explorations, we will gain hands-on research experience as we examine conservation issues, land use practices, and management policies that influence New Zealand’s future in an era of growth and development. By the end of the program, each of us will have gained a new understanding of the diversity of cultures and environments in New Zealand and a firsthand knowledge of its fascinating wildlands and wildlife.
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