Exploring the Alpine Zone

For many of us, the mountains are our playground. They’re where we take on new challenges, achieve our goals, experience adventure, and reach new heights – literally! But for DOC, the harsh alpine zone is a vast research facility where complex problems are considered, harsh environments are explored, and greater understanding of its ecosystems is accomplished.

We first met Christchurch-based DOC Scientific Officer Kerry Weston in 2010 when we sponsored the field component of her PhD that focused on New Zealand’s only true alpine bird – the rock wren.

Rock Wren at Lake Roe

Rock Wren at Lake Roe


Although she has since graduated, Kerry’s research continues in her role with DOC where she is currently working on further study aimed at conserving alpine biodiversity and protecting species that live above the tree line.

DOC Scientific Officer, Kerry Weston

DOC Scientific Officer, Kerry Weston

“My happy place is somewhere high in the mountains, within an intact ecosystem full of native alpine species, in perfect weather, with a camera; is that too much to ask for?”

Kerry spends as much time as possible in the alpine zone where she strives to understand the species which have made this harsh environment their home.

“I really want to increase our understanding of alpine ecology, and I’m working towards developing tools to reverse declines in alpine biodiversity,” she explains.

Kerry’s work is extremely varied, but it involves:

– Developing monitoring methods for cryptic species in the alpine zone (e.g. rock wren and stoats)
– Designing studies to understand what drives alpine predator abundance.
– Establishing predator control programmes above the tree line, and monitoring the outcomes for sensitive threatened species.

“There is currently some uncertainty around the extent to which management of introduced alpine predators is required, largely because we have little understanding of how predation risk above the tree line varies seasonally, annually or geographically,” she explains.

While her work with DOC so far has been incredibly rewarding – it’s not all about beautiful birds.

“The strangest DOC moment I’ve had so far is being tasked with conserving an entire population (6,175) of critically endangered snails in captivity, due to the mining of their native habitat on the West Coast of the South Island.”

The Murchison Mountains

The Murchison Mountains


Kerry tells us that in conservation science, bigger isn’t always better; bright and fluffy does not always beat slow and slimy, and most importantly – every species deserves a voice.

“My conservation advice to New Zealanders is: ‘Give a damn!’ It’s that simple. If you really care about the environment we live in, there are so many ways you can make a difference; the opportunities are endless.”

For more on DOC and their work, visit www.doc.govt.nz