Phoenix Group

Evolutionary Ecology & Genetics

Briar Smith <>
About myself:
After completing a biomedical science degree in human genetics I spent some time working with bumble bees. This piqued my interest in non-human animals, leading to a summer studentship at the Allan Wilson Centre sequencing avian mitochondrial genomes. There I met Steve Trewick and Mary Morgan-Richards and decided to do an honours degree with a project on New Zealand ground weta. I have since embarked on a PhD and continue to work with ground weta.
My research:  

The genus Hemiandrus (Insecta: Orthoptera: Anostostomatidae) comprises approximately 40 New Zealand species of ground weta. Only 9 species have been described and most of the others have only tag names. Most species are have restricted ranges (Fig. 1) and there are far more species in South Island than North Island. Ground weta are related to tree, giant and tusked weta, but are far more speciose with tree weta having only 7 species, giant weta 11 species and tusked weta 3 species. My research investigates why there are so many species of ground weta in New Zealand.

A genus may consist of a high number of species due to increased speciation rates, decreased extinction rates or a combination of the two. Some traits of ground weta may increase speciation rates, such as those that are subject to strong sexual selection e.g. mating signals, anatomy associated with reproduction. Some traits may also decrease extinction rates, such as those that increase survival rates in unpredictable environments e.g. burrowing behaviour, maternal care of young. Furthermore, some regions may have a higher number of species due to features of the land itself e.g. available land area, age, habitat heterogeneity, climate. Using a combination of morphometric, acoustic and genetic techniques I am investigating what has driven the high level of species diversity in this genus.

I am also interested in resolving ground weta taxonomy and evolutionary relationships. Part of my research has been looking at a widespread species Hemiandrus maculifrons, which is found all over both North and South Islands. My results show that H. maculifrons is a cryptic species complex consisting of at least two genetically and morphologically distinctive species with both species being found on both islands. I am currently investigating the nature of interactions between sympatric species within this complex.

Taylor Smith, B. L., Morgan-Richards, M., & Trewick, S. A. (2013). New Zealand ground wētā (Anostostomatidae: Hemiandrus): descriptions of two species with notes on their biology. New Zealand Journal of Zoology, 40(4), 314-329.

Figure 1: The distribution of some New Zealand ground weta. Adapted from Trewick and Bland (2011).


PhD - submitted 2015: Evolution of diversity: analysis of species and speciation in Hemiandrus ground wētā.
BSc Hons –Zoology 2011 (First Class)
BBmedSc –Human Genetics 2009
BA - Modern Languages 2007

Scholarships and Awards:

2013 Department of Conservation New Zealand- Data deficient species funding
2013 Entomological Society of NZ- best student oral presentation
2013 Entomological Society of NZ- K.J. Fox Award
2013 Entomological Society of NZ- 21st Anniversary Award
2013 Brian Mason Scientific & Technical Trust funding
2012 Entomological Society of NZ- best student poster presentation
2011 Doctoral Scholarship (Massey)
2010 Sir Alan Stewart Postgraduate Scholarship (Massey)
2010 Entomological Society of NZ- 21st Anniversary Award
2009 Summer Studentship- Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution
2008 Confucius Institute China Scholarship 2008 Chinese Language and Literature Prize- Victoria University