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Marion Donald

Dr Marion Donald (photo self-supplied).

2023: Dr Marion Donald at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research has been awarded a Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship for research titled ‘A trait-based approach for predicting conservation status of Aotearoa New Zealand’s pollinators’

Across the world, insects are key pollinators for economically important crops and plants. In Aotearoa New Zealand alone, insect pollination is valued at NZ$4 billion. High-profile scientific reports documenting insect declines have raised concerns about food security, biodiversity maintenance, and ecosystem functioning. However, the picture is much more complex. Rather than population declines in all species, recent research indicates some insect populations have increased or remained stable. While environmental change driven by human activities is implicated in insect declines, this doesn’t explain the variation in responses.

Mix of fieldworks fancyshigoto

Dr Donald capturing a pollinator during fieldwork. The inset is a closeup of a native bee visiting a flower (photos self-supplied).

Using ‘trait-based ecology’, Dr Donald’s project focuses on two key pollinator groups in Aotearoa New Zealand – flies and bees. She’ll identify the conservation status for these wild insect pollinators and determine which traits predict conservation status, taking environmental change into account. This work will generate new information for data-deficient species and integrate prior data to build Aotearoa-specific models. A first in the Southern Hemisphere, Dr Donald’s study will provide nationwide, species-level estimates of change for wild pollinators and identify the drivers of this change. This project will digitise data on Aotearoa’s insect pollinators, generate new data on their ecological traits and conservation status, and link this scientific understanding with oral histories and mātauranga.