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Concept: New Zealand


Plastic pollution in the ocean is a global concern; concentrations reach 580,000 pieces per km(2) and production is increasing exponentially. Although a large number of empirical studies provide emerging evidence of impacts to wildlife, there has been little systematic assessment of risk. We performed a spatial risk analysis using predicted debris distributions and ranges for 186 seabird species to model debris exposure. We adjusted the model using published data on plastic ingestion by seabirds. Eighty of 135 (59%) species with studies reported in the literature between 1962 and 2012 had ingested plastic, and, within those studies, on average 29% of individuals had plastic in their gut. Standardizing the data for time and species, we estimate the ingestion rate would reach 90% of individuals if these studies were conducted today. Using these results from the literature, we tuned our risk model and were able to capture 71% of the variation in plastic ingestion based on a model including exposure, time, study method, and body size. We used this tuned model to predict risk across seabird species at the global scale. The highest area of expected impact occurs at the Southern Ocean boundary in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, which contrasts with previous work identifying this area as having low anthropogenic pressures and concentrations of marine debris. We predict that plastics ingestion is increasing in seabirds, that it will reach 99% of all species by 2050, and that effective waste management can reduce this threat.

Concepts: Scientific method, Atlantic Ocean, Albatross, Plastic, New Zealand, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Waste


Most commercially available therapeutic honey is derived from flowering Leptospermum scoparium (manuka) plants from New Zealand. Australia has more than 80 Leptospermum species, and limited research to date has found at least some produce honey with high non-peroxide antibacterial activity (NPA) similar to New Zealand manuka, suggesting Australia may have a ready supply of medical-grade honey. The activity of manuka honey is largely due to the presence of methylglyoxal (MGO), which is produced non-enzymatically from dihydroxyacetone (DHA) present in manuka nectar. The aims of the current study were to chemically quantify the compounds contributing to antibacterial activity in a collection of Australian Leptospermum honeys, to assess the relationship between MGO and NPA in these samples, and to determine whether NPA changes during honey storage. Eighty different Leptospermum honey samples were analysed, and therapeutically useful NPA was seen in samples derived from species including L. liversidgei and L. polygalifolium. Exceptionally high levels of up to 1100 mg/kg MGO were present in L. polygalifolium honey samples sourced from the Northern Rivers region in NSW and Byfield, QLD, with considerable diversity among samples. There was a strong positive relationship between NPA and MGO concentration, and DHA was present in all of the active honey samples, indicating a potential for ongoing conversion to MGO. NPA was stable, with most samples showing little change following seven years of storage in the dark at 4°C. This study demonstrates the potential for Australian Leptospermum honey as a wound care product, and argues for an extension of this analysis to other Leptospermum species.

Concepts: New Zealand, Australia, Flower, Honey, New South Wales, Leptospermum scoparium, Monofloral honey, Leptospermum


Spatial variation in growth is a common feature of demersal fish populations which often exist as discrete adult sub-populations linked by a pelagic larval stage. However, it remains unclear whether variation in growth occurs at similar spatial scales for populations of highly migratory pelagic species, such as tuna. We examined spatial variation in growth of albacore Thunnus alalunga across 90° of longitude in the South Pacific Ocean from the east coast of Australia to the Pitcairn Islands. Using length-at-age data from a validated ageing method we found evidence for significant variation in length-at-age and growth parameters (L(∞) and k) between sexes and across longitudes. Growth trajectories were similar between sexes up until four years of age, after which the length-at-age for males was, on average, greater than that for females. Males reached an average maximum size more than 8 cm larger than females. Length-at-age and growth parameters were consistently greater at more easterly longitudes than at westerly longitudes for both females and males. Our results provide strong evidence that finer spatial structure exists within the South Pacific albacore stock and raises the question of whether the scale of their “highly migratory” nature should be re-assessed. Future stock assessment models for South Pacific albacore should consider sex-specific growth curves and spatial variation in growth within the stock.

Concepts: Fish, New Zealand, Pacific Ocean, Polynesia, Tuna, Thunnus, Scombridae, Yellowfin tuna


A study was undertaken to determine activity concentrations for (134)Caesium, (137)Caesium and (210)Polonium in New Zealand seafood, and establish if activity concentrations varied with respect to species/ecological niche and coastal region. Thirty seafood samples were obtained from six fishing regions of New Zealand along with a further six samples of two commercially important species (hoki and arrow squid) with well-defined fisheries. (134)Caesium was not detected in any sample. (137)Caesium was detected in 47% of samples, predominantly in pelagic fish species, with most activities at a trace level. Detections of (137)Caesium were evenly distributed across all regions. Activity concentrations were consistent with those expected from the oceanic inventory representing residual fallout from global nuclear testing. (210)Polonium was detected above the minimum detectable concentration in 33 (92%) of the analysed samples. Molluscs displayed significantly elevated activity concentrations relative to all other species groups. No significant regional variation in activity concentrations were determined. Two dose assessment models for high seafood consumers were undertaken. Dose contribution from (137)Caesium was minimal and far below the dose exemption limit of 1 mSv/year. Exposure to (210)Polonium was significant in high seafood consumers at 0.44-0.77 mSv/year (5th-95th percentile). (137)Caesium is concluded to be a valuable sentinel radionuclide for monitoring anthropogenic releases, such as global fallout and reactor releases, in the marine environment. (210)Polonium is of importance as a natural radionuclide sentinel due to its high contribution to dietary committed dose in seafood consumers.

Concepts: Species, Fish, Concentration, Chemical equilibrium, New Zealand, Radioactive contamination, Region, Pelagic fish


We examined a cohort of Australian patients with statin exposure who developed a necrotizing autoimmune myopathy (NAM) associated with a novel autoantibody against 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase (HMGCR) and describe the clinical and therapeutic challenges of managing these patients and an optimal therapeutic strategy.

Concepts: Developed country, New Zealand


The 2012 submarine eruption of Havre volcano in the Kermadec arc, New Zealand, is the largest deep-ocean eruption in history and one of very few recorded submarine eruptions involving rhyolite magma. It was recognized from a gigantic 400-km2 pumice raft seen in satellite imagery, but the complexity of this event was concealed beneath the sea surface. Mapping, observations, and sampling by submersibles have provided an exceptionally high fidelity record of the seafloor products, which included lava sourced from 14 vents at water depths of 900 to 1220 m, and fragmental deposits including giant pumice clasts up to 9 m in diameter. Most (>75%) of the total erupted volume was partitioned into the pumice raft and transported far from the volcano. The geological record on submarine volcanic edifices in volcanic arcs does not faithfully archive eruption size or magma production.

Concepts: New Zealand, Pumice, Volcano, Magma, Basalt, Lava, Volcanology, Komatiite


The loss of a companion animal is recognised as being associated with experiences of grief by the owner, but it is unclear how other animals in the household may be affected by such a loss. Our aim was to investigate companion animals' behavioural responses to the loss of a companion through owner-report. A questionnaire was distributed via, and advertised within, publications produced by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) across Australia and New Zealand, and through a selection of veterinary clinics within New Zealand. A total of 279 viable surveys were returned pertaining to 159 dogs and 152 cats. The two most common classes of behavioural changes reported for both dogs and cats were affectionate behaviours (74% of dogs and 78% of cats) and territorial behaviours (60% of dogs and 63% of cats). Both dogs and cats were reported to demand more attention from their owners and/or display affiliative behaviour, as well as spend time seeking out the deceased’s favourite spot. Dogs were reported to reduce the volume (35%) and speed (31%) of food consumption and increase the amount of time spent sleeping (34%). Cats were reported to increase the frequency (43%) and volume (32%) of vocalisations following the death of a companion. The median duration of reported behavioural changes in both species was less than 6 months. There was consensus that the behaviour of companion animals changed in response to the loss of an animal companion. These behavioural changes suggest the loss had an impact on the remaining animal.

Concepts: Psychology, New Zealand, Behavior, Human behavior, Veterinary medicine, Dog, Pet


The ability to imitate complex sounds is rare, and among birds has been found only in parrots, songbirds, and hummingbirds. Parrots exhibit the most advanced vocal mimicry among non-human animals. A few studies have noted differences in connectivity, brain position and shape in the vocal learning systems of parrots relative to songbirds and hummingbirds. However, only one parrot species, the budgerigar, has been examined and no differences in the presence of song system structures were found with other avian vocal learners. Motivated by questions of whether there are important differences in the vocal systems of parrots relative to other vocal learners, we used specialized constitutive gene expression, singing-driven gene expression, and neural connectivity tracing experiments to further characterize the song system of budgerigars and/or other parrots. We found that the parrot brain uniquely contains a song system within a song system. The parrot “core” song system is similar to the song systems of songbirds and hummingbirds, whereas the “shell” song system is unique to parrots. The core with only rudimentary shell regions were found in the New Zealand kea, representing one of the only living species at a basal divergence with all other parrots, implying that parrots evolved vocal learning systems at least 29 million years ago. Relative size differences in the core and shell regions occur among species, which we suggest could be related to species differences in vocal and cognitive abilities.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Evolution, Organism, Bird, New Zealand, Parrot


Low-carbohydrate, high-fat and ketogenic diets are increasingly adopted by athletes for body composition and sports performance enhancements. However, as yet, there is no consensus on their efficacy in improving performance. There is also no comprehensive literature on athletes' experiences while undertaking this diet. The purpose of this pilot work was two-fold: i. to examine the effects of a non-calorie controlled ketogenic diet on body composition and performance outcomes of endurance athletes, and ii. to evaluate the athletes' experiences of the ketogenic diet during the 10-week intervention.

Concepts: Effectiveness, Case study, New Zealand, Ketogenic diet, Diets, Comprehensive examination, Low-carbohydrate diet, Ketosis


On 22 February 2011, Christchurch New Zealand (population 367,700) experienced a devastating earthquake, causing extensive damage and killing one hundred and eighty-five people. The earthquake and aftershocks occurred between the 2009 and 2011 waves of a longitudinal probability sample conducted in New Zealand, enabling us to examine how a natural disaster of this magnitude affected deeply held commitments and global ratings of personal health, depending on earthquake exposure. We first investigated whether the earthquake-affected were more likely to believe in God. Consistent with the Religious Comfort Hypothesis, religious faith increased among the earthquake-affected, despite an overall decline in religious faith elsewhere. This result offers the first population-level demonstration that secular people turn to religion at times of natural crisis. We then examined whether religious affiliation was associated with differences in subjective ratings of personal health. We found no evidence for superior buffering from having religious faith. Among those affected by the earthquake, however, a loss of faith was associated with significant subjective health declines. Those who lost faith elsewhere in the country did not experience similar health declines. Our findings suggest that religious conversion after a natural disaster is unlikely to improve subjective well-being, yet upholding faith might be an important step on the road to recovery.

Concepts: Causality, Belief, Faith, Philosophy, New Zealand, Religion, Earthquake, God