Palaeo-Art and palaeo-biodiversity


I recently learned of palaeo-art from John Lavas our biology librarian. It’s nothing to do with our needing a palaeo-diet but rich in images of what formed the diet of animals before man arrived. What I like about it is that it breathes life to fossils, as artists re-create how they think animals may have looked and behaved in their habitat. In addition to the intellectual challenge of piecing together the picture from the clues available, the art can be both beautiful, sometimes amusing, and a great way to communicate palaeo-ecology to the public. John’s article was based on the work of Zedenék Burian (1905-81).


I thank Jiri Hochman for permission to include these images of Burian’s work, and the Editor of the journal Prehistoric Times for permission to allow downloads of John’s articles Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.


Restoring coral reef ecosystems at Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Dr Charley Waters, an inspiring scientist in Aitutaki, Cook Islands, has started a local initiative to foster community engagement in restoring and protecting their marine environment called Aitutaki Reef Keepers. The island community, including local schools, are closely involved.

School children and visitors actively help by fixing small branches of living coral to cement blocks and wedging the blocks into the reef in the lagoon: as seen on this video. The initiative thus actively fosters community engagement in protecting the island’s coral ecosystem.

Related work involves restoring giant clam populations on which Charley conducted his PhD (see video). He also has a wonderful collection of photographs showcasing the beauty of the clams.

The University of Auckland has undergraduate scholarships for Maori and Pacific Island students, and at postgraduate level for Maori and Pacific Islanders.

Katherine Kelly and Mark Costello joined Charley for a week, helped with placing coral in the lagoon, set out sites for future coral replanting, discussed methods and opportunities for reef health monitoring, and explored the lagoon environment.


A new species of polychaete; Use of light-traps for sampling biodiversity

Two new papers published this week:

Pamungkas, J. (2017). Capitella ambonensis: a new polychaete species (Annelida: Capitellidae) collected from a mangrove habitat on Ambon Island, Indonesia. Zootaxa 4227 (4):  573-582.

McLeod LE, Costello MJ. 2017. Light traps for marine biodiversity sampling. Helgoland Marine Research 71: 2. DOI 10.1186/s10152-017-0483-1

Tips for presenting a scientific talk



  • Who are your audience – aim the talk at them, what will interest them?
  • Show some enthusiasm; it can energise the atmosphere
  • Face the audience and look at them all (not one person)
  • Speak to back of room and control pace of delivery (we may speak faster when nervous), louder and slower than in normal speech
  • Alter the pace of presentation to emphasise key points and cover straightforward background material quickly
  • Avoid bad habits (e.g. umm’s, repeated hand behaviour)
  • Move around if it helps you relax, and some movement helps engage the audience
  • Practice what you will say so your words are clear and concise, and the timing is right
  • Some humour is good, but not too much and keep it appropriate for audience (no jokes that only close colleagues will understand), and never appear flippant
  • Minimise use of the laser pointer. Do not let it dance around the slides.
  • Question time – keep answers brief and to the point
  • Reply to the audience – avoid conversation with one person


  • The audience is interested in what new findings or comments you have, so keep introduction and methods brief
  • Get audience interested early on by posing questions you will answer
  • Questions are more engaging than null hypotheses (to most people)
  • Do not apologise or make excuses for challenges and study limitations; rather state them up front as the reason for the approach used, or state what you learned from the experience and would be a better approach in the future; we can learn from failures.


  • If speaking for more than 5-10 min, introduce layout of presentation and summarise it at end
  • Have a storyboard (plan) memorised, and written down in case you forget or loose track, e.g. why – how – what found – what it means.
  • Do not be afraid to pause and check your storyboard or notes before continuing
  • Tell the audience when you are reaching, or on, the last slide or statement, so they know when you are finished. Alternatively, do not ask audience to read the last slide as the conclusion, but move in front of the slide and state it. Thanking the audience for listening makes it clear you are finished.


  • The first slide should have your name, co-authors and affiliation, the last either the conclusion or acknowledgements; some presenters like to cover acknowledgements after the first slide so the talk ends with the conclusion that then leads better into questions
  • Graphic and images should add to the presentation, not distract from it
  • Graphs, diagrams and images are good, sentences bad (paragraphs worse)
  • Explain axes on slides
  • Minimise clutter (e.g. repeated text and logos), decoration or complex background images on slides
  • Use few (preferably only one kind), if any, and simple transitions between slides.
  • Each slide should have one to three points, more than five is too much
  • Do not read the slides, the audience can do that by themselves


  • Do not irritate your audience with tables with lots of text or text on graphs that is too small to easily read (this is depressingly common)
  • Never put more text on a slide than would be printed on an easily read T-shirt!
  • Full sentences are not necessary, just keywords and phrases
  • Keep text font style simple, bold, large, and minimise variation in styles
  • Consider using the “six by six” rule – never use an slide that has more than six bullet points, and each line should have no more than six words
  • Never put more on a slide than is necessary – the best slides are those that are not quite complete and rely on the presenter to complete the picture
  • Do not use UPPER CASE letters as they are difficult to read; use Upper/lower case
  • Try to use a dark background with light-coloured text, yellow, orange and white on dark blue is very effective
  • Never combine red, blue or green text and backgrounds
  • Fonts used should not be smaller than 24 point
  • Text on graphs should be horizontal to be easy to read, not vertical.
  • Read words backwards to check for spelling errors
  • Fonts “with feet” are easier to read (in a paragraph)
  • Fonts “without feet” make nice titles
  • Limit indents to two, and not more than three

A good online resource for making oral and poster presentations is at

Please make your own suggestions and add links to resources below

Tips for writing a scientific paper

Before starting

Know the key message you wish to communicate. Typically this is the result that most advances the science.

Identify an iconic figure or image that communicates this message. Build the paper around this.


  1. Write a compelling story, not a report. Make it interesting for your target audience (typically your peers) to read.
  2. Go from the general to specific, introduce the reader to the topic and lead them to the specifics of the paper or report. Minimise widely known general points which the reader is almost certain to know. Get to the point quickly.
  3. The title, abstract and the first and last paragraphs are what most people read. These must clearly convey the key message and its novelty (how it advances the science).
  4. Be concise throughout. Make it easy for reader to know what was done, understand the results and appreciate the key findings. Keep it simple. Less is more.

Getting started

Do the easiest parts first and build up the paper. Usually this means drafting the:

  1. Methods and (if any) Appendices,
  2. Tables and Figures,
  3. Results with the key points from each Table and Figure,
  4. Introduction, Discussion and Abstract.


Title ‑ preferably the key message (this will also indicate what was done)

Abstract ‑ emphasise the key finding, context (where, when, how, what), and its implication(s).

Introduction ‑ summarise what is known, unknown and how this paper will fill a gap in knowledge. Only include background that is necessary for the reader to know when understanding the methods, results and what the results mean. Tangential information is inconcise and confusing.

Methods ‑ details that allow reader to know exactly what was done and to repeat study if needed.

Results ‑ the facts from the data. Do not discuss or cite other work. Methods and results are past tense (the work is history).

Discussion ‑ key findings (subset of results) and what the results mean. How the results confirm, extend and advance current knowledge and thinking. Implications and recommendations. Last paragraph must be unique to this study.

Acknowledgements – remember who funded the work, who helped with practical work and provided helpful discussion

References ‑ ensure are accurate, current, limit to essentials, cite reviews for broad statements

Tables ‑ best where numbers are important

Figures ‑ graphs are best where comparisons are needed, keep simple, minimise colour, ensure all text legible when reduced to single column in journal, minimise text on axes, add error bars if possible.

Sub-headings can help structure paper. Each paragraph should have its own topic, logical flow, start and end. The order of paragraphs must also follow a logical flow.

Being concise

Avoid sweeping general statements that are common knowledge.

Make points in as few words as possible. Never repeat a word in a sentence.

Keep sentences short. Single message per sentence.

Do not repeat legends of Tables and Figures in text (just say what you want reader to notice and cite table or figure). Do not repeat facts in text, Tables and Figures.

Avoid repetition between Introduction (only introduces) and Discussion (only discusses results of this paper), and Results (the facts) and Discussion (what facts mean).

Avoid long words (use shorter), inventing new acronyms (use short words, e.g. name not a code), technical terms (= jargon), and ambiguous use of ‘/’.

Please add your own suggestions and links to online resources below

Climate effects on Southern Ocean shrimp distribution

Congratulations to Basher. His PhD paper on how seabed living shrimp may have changed their geographic distribution during the last glaciation to today, and may change again due to climate warming, was the second most highly cited marine biology paper in PeerJ in 2016.

Basher Z, Costello MJ. 2016. The past, present and future distribution of a deep-sea shrimp in the Southern Ocean. PeerJ 4, e1713. DOI 10.7717/peerj.1713

If you care about having fish to eat, recreational fishing, and enjoying a natural environment …..

… then you should be responding to the governments consultation document on a proposed Marine Protected Areas Act by 5pm this Friday 11th March 2016 (

Along with the recent decision to extend the Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve out to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – 200 nautical miles – the proposed Act is good news in many ways because the 1971 Marine Reserves Act is outdated and badly in need of an overhaul. This opportunity also raises other options to be considered, including creating a new Marine Protected Areas Act that will include wider conservation and fishing management measures. But is a Marine Protected Areas Act the right way to go?

We argue that of the changes proposed: (1) some are long overdue and welcome; (2) some fall short; (3) others questionable; and (4) some out of scope of a nature conservation Act.

1. The consultation document rightly identifies shortcomings of the 1971 Marine Reserves Act. Its original purpose was to support scientific research whereas in practice the reserves are about conservation, and it is the conservation of the reserves that provides the benefit to science. The reserves are the reference areas to judge how human activities have impacted areas outside them. Another worthwhile update is to improve the process of consultation in creating reserves, including recognition of customary rights and values as afforded by Treaty of Waitangi obligations.

Through the recognition of customary rights and values, the proposed Act embodies the spirit of kaitiakitanga in principle, and affords the opportunity for kaitiakitanga to be implemented in practice. Critical to achieving this will be embracing mātauranga and the diversity of views amongst Māori.

2. The document notes the limitation of the Marine Reserves Act in its lack of scope outside the Territorial Sea when New Zealand has a responsibility to protect its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Thus special legislation is needed whenever the government wants to protect an area in the EEZ. It is thus a shortcoming that the proposed Act excludes the EEZ because including it could give the government the legislation to more efficiently manage its resources.

Establishing a network of areas that are worth protecting for fisheries and biodiversity in the EEZ would have multiple long-term benefits for future generations, including: protection of fishery broodstock; breeding fish would be larger and thus produce more eggs which would contribute to fisheries; young fish would ‘spillover’ from these areas into adjacent fishery areas; habitats with slow-growing and delicate species such as corals could flourish and harbour biodiversity (including species of present and potential future social, cultural and economic importance).

In addition, these reserves would provide a reference against which the effects of fishing and other activities in adjacent areas could be judged. For example, they would help us know whether changes in fish stock abundance are due to natural causes or fishing. Without a representative network of reserves we do not know how natural or healthy other areas are. Moreover, a reserve network in the EEZ would help to give clarity to where seabed resources could be extracted from.

3. A second element of the Consultation document is a proposal to include marine sanctuaries within the new Act. These are areas where dolphins, whales and seals are given special protection. These animals are already protected within New Zealand’s seas wherever they occur. Sanctuaries can involve additional restrictions of fishing gear that may accidentally kill these animals. However, such restrictions can be applied anywhere at any time using fishing regulations. If there are areas that are critical to these animals survival, such as breeding or feeding grounds, then these areas could be protected as Marine Reserves so as to also conserve their food sources. Having a healthy population of an endangered species requires not only measures to avoid accidentally killing them, but also their having a suitable habitat with adequate food.

4. A new proposal is to create Recreational Fishing Parks in the Hauraki Gulf and Marlborough Sounds. This recognises that recreational fishing pressure has been increasing and will continue to as more people wish to enjoy fishing. It will exclude commercial fishing from these areas, UNLESS they are species not targeted for recreation. Thus these will not be ‘recreation only’ fishing areas despite the proposed name. However, calling an area a Recreational Fishing Park is likely to attract more recreational fishing because of an expectation that fishing there will be better than elsewhere.

Creating Recreational Fishing Parks implies additional controls on recreational fishing but it is not stated what they may be. Without such restraint near urban centres there will be less and less fish over time. Perhaps reluctantly, people already accept limits on what fish they can catch. For example, methods which kill non-target species or more fish than a person’s quota should be banned. Without some restraint we could end up with only catch-release recreational fishing and stricter fee-paying permitting systems as occur in other countries. However, this is all about fishing, not conservation of biodiversity.

It matters not to the fish whether their death will mean they are sold (~commercial) or not (~recreational). Removing the largest fish, as usually happens quickly with either commercial or recreational fishing, has knock-on effects of food webs because these fish dominate the ecosystem by being top predators and producing more young than smaller fish. All fishing requires similar information to manage stocks and there are existing regulations to control fishing. These areas should not then be within a Marine Protected Areas Act and may be best managed by fishery regulations.

So what should the new Act be called? The term Marine Protected Area has become so loosely applied around the world that it is meaningless. Over 94% of MPA in the world allow fishing and thus cannot protect biodiversity in a natural state. All the ocean is protected in some ways, such as controls on pollution, fishing, mining, and where ships travel. Creating a new Act with such a name is not progress. If the Marine Reserves Act needs to be replaced by an Act with a different name, then would a “Marine Conservation” Act be a better name? The focus would clearly be on conservation, not fishery management. It could include measures to protect species threatened with extinction outside of Marine Reserves for example.

Do we need more protected areas now? The ocean is relatively pristine compared to land so do we need to be concerned about its future health yet? People have already altered marine ecosystems at global scales through removing millions of large animals, notably the great whales and larger fish. Reserves are a free insurance policy because nature can restore itself within them. In contrast, piecemeal regulations to protect biodiversity are expensive to manage and more complicated (and costly) to police. Furthermore, reserves directly benefit fishing through spillover and increased production of young fish into the ecosystem. Reserves have value to society through present and future benefits to commercial and recreational fisheries, protecting and learning about natural biodiversity, and provided customary rights and values are recognised, to enhancing and conserving mauri.

Our suggestions
1. Update the purpose of creating Marine Reserves and the consultation process to deliver Crown Treaty of Waitangi obligations and modern best practice.
2. Include the EEZ in the new Act.
3. Begin a process to identify a network of Marine Reserves within the EEZ within five years.
4. Take measures to prevent accidental killing of endangered species wherever they occur.
5. Regulate ‘Recreational Fishing’ outside of a conservation Act.
6. Establish Marine Reserves to protect the most important breeding and feeding locations for endangered species within the EEZ.
7. Establish Marine Reserves where they can bring maximum benefit to commercial and recreational fishing within the EEZ.
8. Make the Kermadec Island Marine Reserve the first action following the update of the Marine Reserves Act.

by Mark Costello and Dan Hikuroa, lecturers at the University of Auckland