nzTABS Mission

The nzTABS mission focuses on examining the biocomplexity of terrestrial ecosystems living in the extreme environments of the Ross Dependency, Antarctica, and building a biocomplexity model linking biodiversity, landscape and environmental factors is an easily understood form.

Our mission question is:

What biological or environmental factors drive terrestrial biocomplexity at any chosen location in the Ross Sea Region of Antarctica?


Answering this question will enable us to determine what limits biocomplexity in different areas and allow us to predict the effects of natural and man-made impacts on these unique and fragile communities. This will help improve our ability to manage and protect the terrestrial ecosystems at the bottom of the world.

Our team of experts from the Universities of Waikato and Canterbury and from around the world brings together exceptional experience in all areas of terrestrial Antarctic biology. Our scientists specialise in a range of disciplines from microbiology and ecology to geomorphology and Geographic Information Systems. By combining our range of skills and knowledge we are able to examine the diverse relationships and drivers of biocomplexity in the unique Dry Valley environment.

The Science

Antarctic terrestrial research is going through major changes. Current understanding of these extreme environments is that they are poor in nutrients, with small and simple biology that are ancient and slow growing. Where we have recently applied modern research techniques we find a different story! There are biological systems supposedly thousands of years old, now carbon dated to less than 100 years; and soils once thought to be life-less are found supporting microbial life at levels approaching those of temperate areas.

At each location we visit we use traditional and cutting-edge scientific techniques to examine the biology from visible lichens, mosses and insects to hidden microbes. DNA fingerprinting and barcoding allows us to rapidly assess biodiversity and find links between sites. New genomic approaches that examine entire microbial communities and their functional aspects will provide a comprehensive picture of interrelationships within these communities. Amounts of organic matter and nutrients will be measured and its source determined by stable isotope ratios and molecular identity. This will help us discover the drivers of biodiversity in this cold, dry environment.

The information on biodiversity, landscape and environmental factors can then be modeled using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). This modelling will not only show the location of the biology but also identify the key species and factors controlling distribution. Knowledge of what determines present biocomplexity will help us to predict the effects of climate change and other global, regional and local impacts.

..An Example of the Model Created Using GIS..

To find out all about how this mission is being carried out in the field, read through our project.