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Matt Rayner

Position title:
Curator of Land Vertebrates
Natural Sciences
Contact Matt

About Matt

I am a child of Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland), having been born and raised beside and on the Waitemata Harbour but also travelling widely with my research that is focused in the Pacific.

As Curator of Land Vertebrates I provide expertise to grow a biological collection with specimens as old as 1856. I also specialise in public science communication of the fauna of New Zealand and the wider Pacific including birds, reptiles and mammals. My research speciality sits within the fields of avian behaviour, conservation ecology and evolution but has a strong cross-disciplinary focus combining tracking technologies, behavioural datasets and cellular analyses of field and museum specimens to understand biological change over time.

Research interests and projects

Active study sites range from the New Zealand mainland, offshore islands (Mokohinau Islands, Mercury Islands, Little Barrier Island and Codfish Island) and international field collaborations in Australia and the tropical Pacific (Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea). A range of national and international projects occupy my time including: investigating the ecology, dive physiology and migration of New Zealand seabirds

  • studying the effects of ecosystem change on New Zealand bird communities through isotopic analysis of contemporary and museum specimens
  • researching the phylogeography and taxonomy of tube nosed seabirds, the Procellariiformes
  • studying the biology of "undiscovered" or poorly known endangered species.

I work closely with national and international colleagues to achieve research and conservation success. Projects have and are supporting a range of students with interests in avian behaviour, ecology and conservation and I would welcome those considering or conducting such research to make contact to share ideas.

Selected research publications


• Rayner M.J., Loenen, A, Shepherd L.D., Cubrinovska, I., Scofield R.P., Tennyson A.J.D., Bunce M., and Steeves T.E., (In review) Human mediated extinctions across a species’ historic range revealed by ancient DNA reinforces taxa boundaries and elevates the threat status in a New Zealand endemic seabird.

• Rawlence, N.J., Rayner, M.J., Lovegrove, T. G., Stoddart, D., Oliver, M., Easton, L.J., Tennyson, A.J.D., Scofield, R.P., Kennedy, M., Spencer, H., and Waters, J.M. (In review) Ancient DNA reveals cryptic biodiversity and possible impending extinction of a unique lineage of Spotted Shags. 

• Berg, M, Linnebjerg, J.F., Ismar, S.M.H., Gaskin, C.P., and Rayner, M.J. (2017) Emu - Austral Ornithology, 118:2, 173-182, DOI: 10.1080/01584197.2017.1366831

• Rayner, M.J.; Young, M.K.; Gaskin, C.G.; Mitchel, C.; Brunton, D.H. 2017. The breeding biology of northern white-faced storm petrels (Pelagodroma marina maoriana) and results of an in-situ chick translocation. Notornis 64(2): 76-86.

• Rayner, M.J., Taylor, G.A., Gaskin, C.P.  &  Dunphy, B.J. (2017) Seasonal activity and unpredicted polar front migration of northern New Zealand common diving petrels. Emu: 1-9

• Ranjard, L. Reed, B.S., Landers, T.J., Rayner, M.J., Freisen, M.R., Sagar, R.L., and Dunphy, B.J. (2016) MatlabHTK: a simple interface for bioacoustics analyses using hidden Markov models. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.12688.

• Rayner, M.J., Carlile, N., Priddel, D., Bretagnolle, V., Miller, M., Phillips, Ranjard, L, Bury, D.J., & Torres, L.G. (2016) Wintering in the sun: niche partitioning by three nonbreeding Pterodroma petrel species in the equatorial Pacific Ocean . Marine Ecology Progress Series 549: 217-229.

• Ismar, S., Gaskin, C., Fitzgerald,  N., Taylor, G., Tennyson  A. & Rayner, M. (2015). Evaluating on-land capture methods for monitoring a recently rediscovered seabird, the New Zealand Storm-Petrel Fregetta maoriana. Marine Ornithology, 43: 255–258.

• Rayner, M., Gaskin, C., Fitzgerald, N., Landers, T., Scofield, P., Ismar, S., Tennyson, A. & Taylor, G. (2015). At-sea radio telemetry to understand endangered seabird biology: a study of the New Zealand storm petrel Fregetta maoriana;. IBIS, 4: 754-66.

• Dunphy, B., Taylor, G., Landers, T., Sagar, R., Chilvers, B., Ranjard, L., & Rayner, M. (2015). Comparative seabird diving physiology: first measures of haematological parameters and oxygen stores in three New Zealand Procellariiformes. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 523: 187-198.

• Sagar R., Dunphy B. J., Hunt K., Nagakawa K. & Rayner M. (2015). Preparing for translocation: feeding frequency, meal size and chick growth in mottled petrel, Pterodroma inexpectata. Emu, 115: 137-145.

See Matt's full list of published research

Explore the collection

Read articles by Matt.

Capturing birds on the wing

Auckland Museum has over 300 bird wings in its collection and now with digital photography we are allowing the public to learn more about this exquisitely complex piece of avian anatomy and how it relates to a bird’s lifestyle, air-miles and feeding habits.

Hawai'i's technicoloured cloak of extinction

Hawai'i's elaborate Ahu’ula, which are made up of thousands of bird feathers, serve as a sad reminder of the number of birds that have been winked out of existence.

White kiwi, French poodles, and the problem of a world in pieces

It's night on Te Hauturu o Toi, Little Barrier Island, and a half moon glows softly behind the clouds. A movement off to our left alerts us and we dive into the brush and extract our prize - a baby North Island brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli).

Tale of the giant moa

One of our most remarkable exhibits - a three-metre tall female giant moa reconstruction - has turned 100 years old. Built in 1913, she tells a unique (but ultimately tragic) evolutionary tale.

Hauraki Gulf shearwaters: Globe-trotting on underwater wings

These small seabirds are one of the most amazingly engineered creatures on the face of the planet, capable of movement above and below the seas surface that we can only dream of.​

Sea snakes and kraits

It's a common misconception that New Zealand has no snakes, but it's not the truth. Marine snakes, or sea snakes, are seen regularly in the waters around northern New Zealand.

The huia

In a country known globally for its unique bird diversity and the tragic loss of its birdlife following human arrival, no species resonates more in the stories of the formation of our nation than the huia.​

Thomas Cheeseman's window into Auckland's biological past

These small seabirds are one of the most amazingly engineered creatures on the face of the planet, capable of movement above and below the seas surface that we can only dream of.​

In praise of humble bones

The Land Vertebrate collection at Auckland Museum has more than three thousand bones from mammals, reptiles and birds. But why are bones important?