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  • The New Zealand Government’s Participatory Science Platform (PSP) is a world-first initiative that aims to engage communities in research projects that are locally relevant and have quality science and learning outcomes.

    These collaborative projects bring scientists and students together. Conventional thinking would presume that learning is confined to the students and their whānau, but Dr Barbara Anderson has also learned a great deal from working on the PSP Ahi Pepe MothNet project.

    Barbara, a scientist, was part of a science team working to learn more about the habitats and distributions of New Zealand native moths. The MothNet project she leads began in Dunedin, where Barbara works, but it has been so successful that it is now nationwide.

    Ahi Pepe and the science process

    Dr Barbara Anderson discusses the science protocols used in the Ahi Pepe MothNet project.

    Select here to view video transcript and copyright information.

    Quality science

    For Barbara and other scientists, investigations start with a good question. The big question the Ahi Pepe MothNet project asks is: Does vegetation restoration restore ecosystem connections?

    It’s a very broad question, so Barbara and the team have made it a bit more specific: Does vegetation restoration restore moth diversity?

    The project uses internationally recognised moth-monitoring techniques and standardised equipment and reporting to help answer the question. In addition, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research has extensive online resources to help groups choosing to be part of Ahi Pepe MothNet.

    Ahi Pepe MothNet is the best thing you’re going to do. If you get the opportunity, take it. Just take it! Because if you don’t, you’re going to miss out on so much cool stuff and all the planning and everything.

    Georgia (student)

    Conducting the Ahi Pepe MothNet experiment

    The Ahi Pepe MothNet science team has five steps in the national experiment:

    1. A question. The project question is: Does vegetation restoration restore ecosystem connections? Restoration could mean replanting, predator control or fencing out livestock.
    2. A treatment. The project treatments test the question about vegetation restoration.
    3. A control for anything that might affect the results. The treatment and control should be as similar as possible in every way except for the one thing being tested. Ahi Pepe MothNet is testing vegetation restoration.
    4. A response – something that can be measured or counted. The project counts moth species and numbers at three sites: a local reference site (an area of mature native bush), the treatment site (restoration site) and control site (similar to the treatment site before restoration).
    5. Replication – duplicating or repeating the experiment. Replication shows that the effect of the treatment is real and not due to chance differences between the treatment and control sites.

    The importance of science for tamariki

    Parents at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti discuss the value the Ahi Pepe MothNet project has added to students’ learning.

    Select here to view video transcript and copyright information.

    Making connections

    Protocols like those listed above help to provide quality science outcomes, but PSP projects are also about strengthening connections between local communities and science. Ahi Pepe MothNet goes a step further – one of its goals is to connect with mātauranga Māori. Ahi Pepe MothNet looks at moths through a Māori lens – their whakapapa and their role in the ecosystem. This cultural lens is reflected in the Ahi Pepe MothNet overview:

    Ahi Pepe MothNet and all our project partners and participating schools and champions are working to find out how New Zealand’s native moths are getting on, where they are and how their distributions relate to the natural and changing environment across New Zealand.

    Measuring habitats and distributions are the domain of scientific thinking, processes and methods. Finding out how the moths are getting on gives the project a different perspective to simply knowing where they are and makes the reasoning behind the science/monitoring more obvious for tamariki and their whānau.

    We wanted science to be one of the kaupapa that really inspires and ignites a passion for learning amongst our kids at this kura.

    Marcia Cassidy, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti
    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Using a Heath moth trap

    Dr Robert Hoare and students from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti check the contents of a Heath moth trap. Heath moth traps attract and trap moths.

    Igniting a passion for learning

    Kā Pepe Tuna Miharo

    Ka kōrero kā tamariki o Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti mō te take i pai ai kā pepe tuna ki a rātou.

    English translation
    The tamariki of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti tell us why they like moths.

    Select here to view video transcript and copyright information.

    PSP projects are designed to inspire and engage students and others in the community, but it’s not just the public who learn from this partnership. The students at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti have helped Barbara gain a Māori perspective. She says that working with te reo Māori has helped clarify her thinking about moths and ecosystems.

    Nature of science

    The New Zealand Curriculum explains that science is a way of explaining the world. Modern science and mātauranga Māori often work together to provide a wider explanation of the world than either of them offer alone.

    The Ahi Pepe MothNet team has produced a series of identification guides in te reo Māori and English: Puka Whakamārama o Te Pepe Nui – Beginners’ Guide to Macro Moths. The guides, the appreciation of moths as ecological indicators, the investigations and the collaborative nature of the project have combined to strengthen and restore connections between the culture and science.

    Useful links

    Watch this video on YouTube as Dr Barbara Anderson explains the national experiment protocols and how to use a Heath trap to collect data.

    See the Ahi Pepe MothNet project website for more information and resources.

    Read about the rationale behind the Government’s Participatory Science Platform funding.

    MothNet’s first project, Shedding Light on the Night, looked at the effects of artificial lighting. Download the PDF of The beginners’ guide to the macro-moths of Otago, it has a suggested experiment with the question: What effect does an orange street light have on the moth community?


    The Ahi Pepe MothNet project received funding through Otago Science into Action – the Otago pilot of the Participatory Science Platform (PSP), which is part of the Curious Minds initiative and funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The PSP is currently being implemented as a pilot in three areas: South Auckland, Taranaki and Otago.

    Ahi Pepe MothNet has also received additional funding from Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research; Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti; Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu; Te Tumu, University of Otago; Department of Geography, University of Otago; Orokonui Ecosanctuary; Otago Museum; and New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge.

    The government’s national strategic plan for Science in Society [PDF, 1.2 MB], A Nation of Curious Minds – He Whenua Hihiri i te Mahara, is a government initiative jointly led by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Ministry of Education and Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.

      Published 29 June 2018, Updated 14 April 2020 Referencing Hub articles
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