25 May 2023

The complexities of soil

From Our Changing World, 5:00 am on 25 May 2023

Professor Amanda Black is a big picture thinker. She likes the idea that we are just tiny dots in a vast universe. Little surprise then that her science career led her to studying soil, one of the most complex and varied ecosystems there is.  

Amanda is wearing a black 'Wild Dunedin' t-shirt underneath a khaki green hooded jacket. She is smiling and standing in front of a Wild Dunedin: NZ Festival of Nature banner featuring a bright sunset.

Professor Amanda Black. Photo: Claire Concannon/RNZ

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Amanda is the director of the Bioprotection Aotearoa Centre of Research Excellence. Formerly known as the Bio-Protection Research Centre, it was re-funded in July 2021 with a new approach in mind for how to tackle the tricky job of protecting New Zealand’s productive landscapes.  

Her own research has led her from investigating how movement between landscapes affects the kauri dieback pathogen, to re-establishing land-sea connections in the hopes of increasing soil resilience to this disease.  

Based at Lincoln University, Amanda was one of the visiting speakers to the 2023 Wild Dunedin Festival of Nature. In its eighth year, the theme for this year’s festival was whenua. More than 120 events across ten days celebrated the land and soils.  

A close-up of a shiny black beetle with a curved horn held in an outstretched hand with a smiling face behind, slightly out of focus

Emma Curtin with a dung beetle (Copris hispanus). Photo: Guy Frederick / University of Otago

As every other year, the festival began with the 7 x 7 Wild Talks event. Seven speakers are given seven minutes to talk about their chosen topic. University of Otago PhD candidate Emma Curtin used her time to talk about the insect she studies: dung beetles. These beetles are a relatively new arrival to Aotearoa, and Emma is investigating the benefits they might deliver for farmers.  

Another visiting speaker was Jim O’Gorman, known as the Dirt Doctor. Across composting workshops and talks, Jim shared his knowledge about how to create healthy, productive soils.  

Jim is standing in front of a compost pile and talking to a small group of people. Another man is tipping a wheelbarrow full of compost onto the grass beside Jim.

Jim O'Gorman presents a composting workshop at the New Zealand Festival of Nature in Dunedin. Photo: Claire Concannon/RNZ

Listen to the episode to hear more about Bioprotection Aotearoa, Amanda’s research work, and about dung beetles and composting!  

To learn more:  

  • Our Changing World has extensively covered kauri dieback disease.  

  • Jim O’Gorman previously featured on Country Life. 

  • The connection between seabirds and the land is something the team at Auckland War Memorial Museum is also investigating in the Noises Islands in the Hauraki Gulf.  

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