Biosecurity is a worldwide issue. Invasions of unwanted organisms are rising through increased global trade, tourism and climate change, and as a result, one in five plant species are now at risk of extinction. Invasive species are estimated to cost five percent of the world’s economy.
“For Māori and other indigenous groups, there are more ramifications to the introduction and spread of invasive species than economic loss,” says Dr Black
. “Invasive species can also displace or destroy indigenous species and threaten the identity and functioning of indigenous cultures, by negatively impacting food gathering or ceremonial practices for example.”
The research project, ‘Reindigenising the Biosecurity System’, will use a range of interdisciplinary methods to explore what biosecurity means for Māori, using kauri dieback disease as an example. The disease, caused by a plant pathogen that was first detected in New Zealand in the 1950s, is damaging and killing kauri, from seedlings to mature iconic trees. It is currently spreading through the few remaining fragments of ancient forest in Northland.
“Kauri is an ancient, long-lived species and is at great risk of disappearing from our landscape and living memory,” explains Dr Black. “Kauri trees are valued highly as a taonga, or treasured plant, by all New Zealanders, but have a specific role as tuakana (elder sibling), with a senior ancestral lineage and relationship for Northland Māori.”
The project will explore how indigenous knowledge, from past and present, combined with traditional science disciplines and social research can help protect kauri forests from modern biosecurity risks and threats. “The extensive and profound knowledge that indigenous people have from a long-standing and intimate relationship with their environment is often overlooked by recent colonists, and presents a unique and innovative opportunity to improve current biosecurity paradigms and policy,” explains Dr Black.
Dr Black’s research will also compare how the cultural identity, perspectives and priorities of other indigenous peoples can be integrated in countries facing similar issues, an approach which could transform mainstream biosecurity research here and internationally.
The Marsden Fund supports excellence in leading-edge research in New Zealand. Projects are selected annually after a rigorous peer-review process. This year a total of 117 projects were funded and have been allocated $65.2 million.