Tuatara: Volume 1, Issue 1, September 1947
The nature of applied biological research is not always clear to students of biological subjects or to the general public. The work of government research departments and research institutions appears with few exceptions only in technical journals and is rarely interpreted in the current press for general consumption. This does not mean that such work as has been done has little value, or that the potentialities of biological work are necessarily small. It does mean that there is real scope for a journal which will provide articles on biological research in New Zealand readily accessible to the student and the general public. This is a task which the Biological Society of Victoria University College has undertaken in the production of “Tuatara” in its new form.
Biological research is neither narrow in purpose nor in application. It touches on all aspects of human existence and has contributed to human welfare in many ways. Urbanisation, the development of city communities, throws an ever increasing strain on the production of foods on the land and from the seas; restriction of food sources paves the way to widespread nutritional defects; the aggregation of individuals facilitates the transmission of contagious disease; the disruption of biologically balanced communities liberates pests of all kinds, and has created such far-reaching problems as soil erosion, and the depletion of essential nutriment from the land. The solution to these and other kindred problems of our civilization comes, and must come in the future, through biological research.
Already the application of scientific method to agriculture in New Zealand has brought about marked increases in the yield of farm products from given areas. These results were achieved by improvements in the quality of crops and grasses, the utilization of fertilizers best suited to soil requirements, advances in animal husbandry and breeding, and many other developments resulting from research. Marine and freshwater food resources have not as yet been fully exploited in this country. The eel-canning industry and the extraction of shark liver oil for its vitamin content are two recent developments, but a great deal of survey and research work must be done before our aquatic resources are utilized to the best advantage. Although the food stuffs to remedy nutritional deficiencies must come from our agricultural and fisheries resources, foods can only be put to the best use when their relative nutritive values are known. Valuable studies on this problem are being undertaken in New Zealand.page 4
The spread of infectious diseases is a trend favoured by the growth and aggregations of human populations. However, the results of experience and research have not only countered this trend, but have materially reduced the range and incidence of such diseases; and have also provided greatly improved methods for treatment and control. Many of the treatments have general application and are the results of research carried out in all parts of the world, but others are of special importance locally. Tuberculosis (especially among Maoris), goitre and hydatids, assume greater importance in New Zealand than in many other countries, and important contributions towards the understanding of these diseases are being made here. Domestic animals and plants have their own diseases and parasites. These have increased with closer interchange between countries, and a significant contributory factor has been some loss of stamina in domesticated species after selection for production. If unchecked, such tendencies counteract the effect of gains in production from improvements in agricultural method, but research on disease control in both animals and plants has prevented much of this loss.
Other pests not actually associated with disease have also increased, due to the upset of the balance of nature by man. The settlement of areas previously occupied by indigenous plants and animals has lead towards the extinction of many once common species but has provided conditions suited to many introduced species. Those whose multiplication has caused severe competition with species of greater value to man, have become pests. Ragwort and gorse, many insects and rabbits and deer, have already reached this status. Some plants, valueless to man have increased in numbers so greatly that they are invading areas intended for economic crops, and their elimination requires special study and treatment. Vast numbers of insects have threatened crops, orchards, and timber, and the constant attention of entomologists must be given to their control. Rabbits and deer are severe competitors with sheep and cattle for grazing on high country and reduce the carrying capacity of land. Their control is becoming even more urgent as their part in the depletion of permanent plant covering to steep slopes is realised, and the scale of such resulting phenomena as soil erosion is appreciated. Man's removal of plant covering by overgrazing and deforestation had vastly added to the waste of irreplaceable soil before the significance of the changes he introduced was realised. An understanding of complete biotic interrelationships is therefore essential for society to maintain harmony with its environment.
Much has already been done by the application of biology to problems affecting man's welfare. It should be apparent, however, that a great deal more research is needed. This will require many more workers. The success of such persons will depend as much on the real interest with which their study is pursued as on previous technical page 5 training. For this reason it is felt desirable that students of biology should understand the nature of applied research, and the particular appeal of applying basic knowledge to human problems.
One of the main objects of “Tuatara” is to provide reviews showing the present applications and future scope of biological research. Other articles designed to assist students of biology will be included in each number.
Students are frequently faced with the problem of the identification of specimens collected or observed by their friends or by themselves. Some of the more conspicuous groups of animals and plants are described in monographs, but many specimens can only be identified after prolonged search in various journals. References to the main literature on certain groups, and keys to the identification of common or conspicuous species will be given in this and subsequent issues. It should assist the beginner who may obtain a certain satisfaction from specifically identifying a specimen and aid others seeking correct identification, which is so essential as a starting point for the detailed study of any organism in the laboratory and the field.
This journal is intended to give some information which cannot be included in an already crowded course of instruction, but is frequently wanted by students. It will be serving its purpose if it can rouse some interest in the general topics discussed and especially lead to further inquiries into the points outlined.