How much do you know about our Wild Work? As a not-for-profit conservation organisation, Auckland Zoo is committed to safeguarding our beautiful planet, all of its remarkable species and spectacular landscapes, for generations to come. We bring you #Wildwork Wednesday to show you some remarkable people undertaking extraordinary work in New Zealand and abroad.

This Wild Work Wednesday, we’re taking you with us to Tanzania, where Auckland Zoo is helping to fund conservation research for some incredible invertebrates, restoring their habitat and protecting a corner of the world’s biodiversity.

In Amani Nature Forest Reserve, two tiny top predators need conservation support: a species of damselfly known as the Amani flatwing (Amanipodagrion gilliesi) and its smaller, slimmer cousin the dragonfly Micromacromia miraculosa that shares the same forested reserve. Despite their beauty, both species are critically endangered. The Amani flatwing is only found in the wild in this one place - a single 500-meter-long section of stream within the reserve, and nowhere else in the world.

If you’re trying to decide whether a beautiful bug is a dragonfly or damselfly, look at the wings. Damselflies fold theirs back, while dragonflies can’t, so when a dragonfly is resting their wings stick out sideways from their bodies. Neither dragonflies or damselflies survive well in captivity, so keeping their habitat safe is crucial for protecting these species. Dragonflies and damselflies are top insect predators, at any age and adult dragonflies manage to succeed in their high-speed aerial hunts 95% of the time. Compare that to lions, who only succeed 25% of the time! As dragonfly nymphs, they’re quite possibly the most effective mosquito larvae killers known to mankind! Damselflies are far less well researched but have similar benefits to the ecosystem in which they live.  

“Insects perform crucial services within nearly every terrestrial ecosystem on earth. Their roles include pollination, decomposition, spore dispersal, and vital links within every food chain.” Says Ben Goodwin, ectotherm keeper at Auckland Zoo. “As biodiversity declines, ecosystems degenerate. They lose their uniqueness, interest, importance, use, beauty and the things which make them special to us.”

In order to protect these insects, we need to know more about their habitat, range and current population. This can be hard to do – while almost 40 different individuals of M. miraculosa were caught and released, only 7 Amani flatwings were sampled, with head researcher Prof Anna C. Treydte reporting that the flatwings are “robust and more powerful in flight”, and much more of a challenge to collect. But every individual caught and released tells us a lot about the population they come from.

The forest reserve itself was also studied, to determine how badly invasive plants are degrading this crucial habitat. With this information, researchers are working on a model to predict the spread of invasive plants so that conservation strategies can target areas to be worked on. The monitoring of the forest also uncovered two illegal mining sites, where the land has been degraded and deforested. Solving two problems at once, this December in the Tanzanian rainy season a replanting program is planned, using native species. The monitoring of the forest also showed some good news – overall the reserve’s forest cover has expanded. The monitoring of this key reserve is not only helping to gather data on mysterious, critically endangered species, but also helping this ecosystem recover.

Every time you visit the Zoo, your ticket goes towards supporting projects like this, and maintaining the biodiversity we all treasure.