Phoenix Group

Evolutionary Ecology & Genetics

Lena Olley <>
About myself:

I have been passionate about wildlife and have loved animals as long as I can remember. I grew up out in the country near Nelson, South Island, NZ. My family has always had a menagerie of animals and pets around our home, so naturally I ended up studying Zoology at Otago University. When I finished my BSc degree I volunteered on the "Falcons for grapes" project in Marlborough. Working with falcons took over my life after that. They are the most amazing, intelligent birds that they never fail to make my jaw drop when I see them in the wild. I was later employed by International Wildlife Consultants Ltd which meant I travelled back and forth following the breeding seasons between Wales (in the United Kingdom) and Blenheim (in Marlborough, New Zealand) for 3 years. In Wales I worked at the falcon breeding center as an aviculturalist.  My main responsibility was breeding the kārearea but I gained a huge amount of other bird handling and management experience as well. In Blenheim I continued to do a wide range of work with the falcons for grapes project and eventually became field manager. In 2014 I completed an MSc in Conservation Biology at Massey University.

lena and falcon


My Research:

My MSc research project involved assessing variation among the three recognised kārearea morphotypes; bush, eastern and southern, which appear to differ in terms of size, colouration, range and even ecology. This task was complicated by the fact that falcons are sexually dimorphic with males being significantly smaller than females, and the plumage of young kārearea is different from adults. So, observations in the field can be tantelizing and even misleading. My project involved analysis of a combination of different character types. I collated morphometric data routinely obtained from live birds (e.g. wing and tarsus lengths, body mass), photographs showing colour variation, osteometric and plumage data, measurements from museum skins, and population genetic information. Molecular work involved sequencing fragments of mitochondrial DNA, and genotyping kārearea populations using micrsatellites. This work involves a wider range of sampling techniques, including my own sample collecting from live birds around the country and those gathered from existing collections in museums. This resaerch, funded by the New Zealand Department of Conservation, helps resolve uncertainty about the taxonomic and thus conservation management status of kārearea populations in New Zealand, and is progressing alongside research on kārearea breeding ecology at Massey University.

In, soon to be published research, we show that two morphtypes of kārearea exist and that their distributions correlate closely with the two main islands of New Zealand. However, we found genetic diversity is low and not strongly partitioned geographically. Ongoing work is focussed at gathering more detailed genetic data and ecological data and will include tracking the dispersal of young kārearea.








For more on Kārearea and Falcons

nz falconfalcon chicks