What is Plant-SyNZ™?

Many people, from professional scientists to lay people and school students, are interested in learning about how to enhance and measure New Zealand’s biodiversity. Insects are an important and numerous component of New Zealand’s biodiversity. Plant-SyNZ™ is a tool that was developed to assess the biodiversity of a broad range of insect and other invertebrate (mite, and nematode) herbivores. It has been expanded to include fungi and other micro-organisms,  and insect and mite predators and parasitoids associated with herbivores. The tool is based upon photographs of plant damage caused by the invertebrates and fungi, and photographs of invertebrates and fungi that have a unique appearance on a particular plant. The tool can be used for a wide variety of purposes and by people with different skill levels.

Central to Plant-SyNZ™ are the invertebrate identification charts with photographs of plant damage and distinctive associated organisms. These are pdf files that can be printed or used on a portable computer. Tablet computers are especially suitable, because it is easy to scroll through images and enlarge the high quality photographs to see more detail. Each invertebrate & fungi identification chart covers only one plant species.

About the invertebrate and fungi/micro-organism identification charts

The identification charts provide photographs and brief descriptions of distinctive plant damage, invertebrate herbivores, associated predators and parasitoids, and fungi that have a unique appearance on the plant species. As well as the organism on the live parts of plants, fungi and other micro organisms associated with dead leaves and stems are being included where practical.

The size of the invertebrates or the galls and mines can be difficult to describe or show on photographs. Size has been indicated by comparison with a part of the plant, such as a leaf or stem. A scale is provided where possible.

The identification charts have been designed for three levels of expertise. Where special skill is needed to distinguish between symptoms, such as two kinds of stem gall, these have been assigned to the ‘expert’ level for trained botanists and entomologists. Where the symptoms are always clear and distinctive, these have been assigned to the ‘student’ level. There is a ‘standard’ level for non-experts.

In addition to invertebrate herbivores and fungi, the charts show other invertebrates such as predators, that are known to be associated with the plant and they show other kinds of plant damage that may sometimes be seen.

The invertebrates and fungi/micro-organisms shown in the photographs and in the matching recording sheet are those known to the editor at the time. New invertebrate-plant host associations are continually being added to the Plant-SyNZ™ database from a variety of sources, including published information, insect collections, personal information from entomologists and newly discovered invertebrates. The charts will be updated at intervals.

The charts also provide illustrations and notes to assist identification of the plant species.

Recording sheets

There is a recording sheet to accompany each identification chart. These can be printed prior to a survey or used on a portable computer. If plots are to be recorded separately, then details of the habitat can be added to the recording forms before printing.

Use of plant and invertebrate names

The invertebrate identification charts give common names and scientific names. However, common names do not exist for all plant species and sometimes there are several common names for a species or same common name is used for more than one plant species, e.g. karamu for Coprosma robusta and C. lucida. To avoid confusion only the scientific name of the plant is used on the recording forms.

Very few invertebrate herbivores have common names and some are yet to be named. Scientific names or descriptive names are used on the identification charts and recording sheets. The family and major groupings of each invertebrate and fungus/micro-organism are also given. A unique number for each organism provides a link between the identification chart and the recording form.

How the demonstration identification charts can be used

Demonstration charts are available for two plant species. It is hoped to add another one or two plant species in 2016. The demonstration charts are being made available in order to get feed back from users and so make improvements.

The plant species chosen are present in native habitats, parks, gardens and school grounds. The identification charts can be used to compare the fauna and fungi on plants in different habitats (e.g. school grounds and native plant reserve) different parts of the same place (e.g. school grounds) or different native plant reserves. They can also be used to compare what is found on the plants at different times of year. If there are extensive areas of the plants to be surveyed, it is a good idea to examine several areas separately and intensively rather than trying to examine all the plants in one go.

For students, teachers may wish to print just the first page of the chart for the plant being surveyed and have a copy of the full chart so that they can answer any questions about other organisms that might be found.

The demonstration charts and recording forms are available here.

Please send us your feedback with comments on what you like and ideas for improvements. Comments are particularly welcome on the layout and arrangement of the photographs, the selection of photographs for the level of expertise you have used, and the text under each photograph.

How Plant-SyNZ™ can be used to conduct habitat surveys

When identification charts are available for more plant species, they can be used for formal surveys of habitats of native plants.

Plant-SyNZ™ can be used to survey an area of native plants. The survey can be casual or formal. The tool is particularly suitable for comparing two or more areas or monitoring changes in an area over time. Full details of how to conduct a survey will be published at a later date. The following is a brief outline of the procedure.

It is assumed that the group conducting the survey will already know which plant species are present and will select the plant species (15-30) that they want to use in their survey. The identification charts for each plant species have matching recording forms, also provided by Landcare Research. The recording sheets can be copied to produce the number required for the survey.

Next the surveyors need to decide how many 3 x 10 meter rectangles (sample plots) they want to examine. This depends on the size of the area, but 25-30 are currently recommended for each habitat. The sample plots should be spread throughout the area being monitored, and preferably chosen using one of the methods of random selection. White portable electric fence posts are good temporary markers for the corner of each plot. When marked out, the plot is checked for the presence of the selected plant species. Plants of each selected species that is present are then searched in turn for a fixed time; up to 2 minutes is generally adequate. One person searches and uses the Plant-SyNZ™ identification chart to identify the organisms and a second person records their presence and times the search. Note that the search can be stopped while a specimen is checked and then started again. Each organism is only recorded once in each sample plot. This is a presence/absence method. Abundance is expressed as the number of sample plots in which each invertebrate was found. Alternatively, if a simple species list is required, each species of invertebrate is recorded only once per habitat.