Kauri grove, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand
Father of the Forest: Te Matua Ngahere, Waipoua Forest, Northland
Ground penetrating radar survey of a prospective ancient kauri site, Northland
Sub-fossil kauri ready for analysis in the laboratory
Perfectly preserved kauri cone, more than 56,000 years old
The Ancient Kauri Project is an international research program dedicated to reconstructing past climates and environmental change from a New Zealand icon
New Zealand has a reputation for inspiring scenery and natural forests. Over 80 million years of isolation has resulted in a unique flora and fauna. One of its most iconic trees is the kauri (Agathis australis) because of its spectacular shape and size (more than 5 metres in diameter). The restricted distribution of the species to only northern parts of the country is a legacy of its tropical affinity. In fact, the species is a southern ‘outlier’ from the family group Araucariaceae, a hangover from when New Zealand formed part of the supercontinent Gondwanaland.
Less widely known is the amount of ancient kauri lying in peat bogs stretching from Hamilton City north to Cape Reinga. A large number of peat bogs across this area contain wood that is so perfectly preserved it has resulted in a small industry producing high value ornaments and furniture here in new Zealand. The truly remarkable thing is the age of the wood. Many of the extracted logs are between 12,000 and 55,000 years old, spanning the time of the last ice age when Neanderthals roamed Europe and modern humans first arrived in Australia. The wood contains a wealth of scientific information. Using a technique called dendroclimatology we are analysing the tree-rings to get a year-by-year account of past climate. And by radiocarbon dating the wood, ancient kauri is providing unparalleled new insights into how the planet’s carbon cycle behaves during periods of abrupt and extreme climate change, crucial for understanding the future of our planet. Nowhere else in the world does such an extensive collection of ancient wood exist, most of which was bulldozed by the vast ice sheets that covered large parts of North America and Europe during the last ice age.