Position: Paleoclimate scientist, GNS Science.
Dr Marcus Vandergoes is a paleoecologist at GNS Science. That means that he uses the ancient remains of plants and animals to reconstruct their ecosystems and the environmental conditions they lived in. In order to understand the past like this, you also need to understand the environments of plants and animals that are around now.
It was this interest in current ecology that eventually led Marcus to studying the past. Following a love of botany and zoology at school, he went on to study geography and zoology at university. This stimulated an interest in how the landscape we see around us now has evolved over time.
Marcus currently specialises in the reconstruction and dating of the vegetation and climate of New Zealand over the last few hundred thousand years. In Ice ages unearthed find out about his research in a South Island peat bog, where detailed dates have been obtained for vegetation changes during the last two ice ages.
An exciting part of being a paleoecologist is being able to add pieces to the puzzle of what has happened in the past of New Zealand.
Many scientists say that their work is like that of a detective. Marcus is no different, but he adds that he gets to travel through time as well. His knowledge of the ecology of ‘now’ lets him interpret the past, which, in turns, allows for predictions of the future.
His field work and research experience has led to him working in Antarctica, New Zealand Subantarctic Islands, Patagonia and the USA.
Marcus co-led a five-year, $12m project for GNS Science and the Cawthron Institute to find out how 380 lakes around the country have changed over the past 1,000 years. This was the largest scientific study ever undertaken on lakes in Aotearoa.
This article is based on information current in 2011 and updated in 2023.