How one Ngä Pae o te Märamatanga project led to a world-acclaimed breakthrough in understanding evolution

For more then a generation scientists have known that life proliferates more rapidly near the equator. The problem was that up until recently, no one knew why this was so. And in 2006 when Dr Shane Wright solved the riddle in a Ngä Pae o te Märamatanga research project, the scientific world applauded.

Said the United Kingdom’s Guardian, Shane had cracked “one of the most enduring mysteries since Charles Darwin returned from the Galapagos Islands”. When his findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, other reports soon followed in major newspapers and in the leading international magazine The Economist.

Comparing common tropical plants with closely related species from temperate areas Shane, who is of Te Ati Hau, Ngäti Tüwharetoa descent, showed how plants benefit in two ways from living close to the equator. They have a higher rate of metabolism, leading to more genetic variations, and also pass on genetic changes through generations much more quickly.

“This sort of success helps spread awareness of how Mäori are contributing in all sorts of areas,” Shane says. “I’m thrilled to be helping fly the flag for Mäori and science.”