One of our main study species is the Hihi, a threatened passerine bird from New Zealand.
Hihi are extremely conservation reliant. They need supplementary feeding, nest boxes and other forms of intensive management at most sites and this makes them an expensive bird to protect. Yet they are a "canary" of New Zealand forest health - hihi need healthy complex forests to survive, and research by our group (led by Caitlin Andrews) is showing that healthy forests also need hihi (via pollination of threatened plants). Hihi have complex social relationships and we are also demonstrating that the social environment of hihi is an intricate part of their ability to find new food sources (led by Victoria Franks). Meanwhile, breeding success is critical for hihi populations, but research has shown that many males are "firing blanks", leaving eggs infertile.
To help raise money for on-the-ground conservation, a collaborator from the New Zealand Hihi Recovery Group (Dr Helen Taylor, University of Otago, New Zealand) has therefore set up The Great Hihi Sperm Race. Visit www.hihispermrace.co.nz, click on your favourite male, and place a (bet)donation. Meanwhile, Helen and her team will be analysing hihi sperm samples with the help of a mobile sperm lab, a microscope and a video camera to find which male's sperm swims the fastest!
It’s a light-hearted way of raising awareness and much needed conservation funding for a beautiful yellow and black bird that was widespread throughout the North Island until humans arrived, bringing mammals such as rats, destroying hihi habitats, and reducing numbers down to just one population by the 1880s.
Hihi numbers are higher now, thanks to conservation efforts, but there are still only seven populations in the whole country. It’s not known how many individuals there are, and the future of the sugar-loving bird is still threatened thanks to its reliance on complex mature forest habitats, few of which exist in New Zealand at this point.
Please help us raise money and better protect hihi for the future - Betting is open until midnight on Sunday 22nd April NZ time.
Gentleman hihi, start your...er...engines!
For more information, contact: Helen Taylor, Department of Anatomy, University of Otago, New Zealand.