Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Chemical Analysis of Dacrydium cupressinum to Help Save the Kākāpō

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posted on 2022-05-20, 00:40 authored by Harrington, Daniel

The world’s largest flightless parrot, the kākāpō, are a critically endangered species with 209 individuals remaining. Conservation efforts involving close monitoring, supplementary feeding, genetic analysis, and artificial insemination have increased the kākāpō population from a low of 51 individuals in 1995. Slow breeding cycles, low fertility, and a lack of available predator free habitat currently hinder recovery efforts.

Rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum) berries are a favourite food of kākāpō. Breeding generally coincides with rimu masting which limits the kākāpō reproductive cycle to approximately once every three years. The breeding triggers for kākāpō are not yet fully understood. It has been hypothesised that phytoestrogens present in rimu fruit act as a breeding trigger by increasing the fecundity of both females and males.

Natural products extraction and chromatography techniques guided by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy were used to search for potential phytoestrogens. Aided by an oestrogenic bioassay, phytoestrogenic compounds were detected in the water and methanol extracts of rimu plant structures consumed by kākāpō. Compound 48 was isolated, a compound that shares structural similarity with the known phytoestrogen podocarpic acid (27), a known high-level constituent of rimu heartwood. Spectroscopic evidence for other compounds sharing structural similarity to 27 was also detected in fractions of rimu plant structures.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline

Chemistry; Biology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Drug Discovery and Development

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Ferrier Research Institute

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

189999 Other environmental management not elsewhere classified

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

4 Experimental research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Chemical and Physical Sciences


Hinkley, Simon; Pitman, Janet