Previous positions

Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History

Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellow

National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian Institution

Washington DC, USA

University of Cape Town

Postdoctoral Fellow

University of Cape Town

Cape Town, South Africa

University of Otago

Research Associate

University of Otago

Dunedin, New Zealand

Massey University
Auckland Museum

Senior Lecturer in Zoology

Massey University

Auckland, New Zealand

Research Associate

Tāmaki Paenga Hira

The Auckland War Memorial Museum

Auckland, New Zealand

Dr Daniel Thomas

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Room 50.03, Building 50 | Gate 4

Massey University Oteha Rohe campus

Private Bag 102 904 | Auckland 0745 | New Zealand

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Research themes and projects

Fauna toolkit
Fauna Toolkit: Bird Bones

3D digitised replicas of bones for research, training, and science communication.


Giovanardi penguin reconstruction
Origins of the New Zealand fauna

Describing and analysing fossils from New Zealand with an emphasis on seabirds.



Image credit: Simone Giovanardi

RCPCA Loadings
Multiple block methods for shape analysis

A morphospace for shapes of objects that are built from multiple parts.

Research student (current)

Simone Giovanardi
Bone shape evolution in a secondarily aquatic tetrapod

Student: Simone Giovanardi

PhD thesis research

A detailed analysis of the history, adaptation, and structural constraints on shape using penguins as a model system.

Research student (completed)

Emma Holvast
Developing a taxonomic identification tool using shape

Student: Emma Holvast

MSc thesis research

Landmark- and pseudolandmark-based methods combined with machine learning to classify seabird bones to order and family level.

Selected research outputs

Thomas et al PRSB 2020
Ancient crested penguin constrains timing of recruitment into seabird hotspot

​​The newly-discovered, three-million-year old dawn crested penguin Eudyptes atatu provides a crucial connection. Crested penguins, and perhaps other types of seabird, arrived in New Zealand in deep time and have been living in the region for millions of years.

Thomas et al. NZJGG 2019
Re-evaluating New Zealand’s endemic Pliocene penguin genus

The Te Reinga Falls fossil indicates that a penguin approximately the size of the extant tawaki (Fiordland crested penguin, Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) was present in New Zealand during the middle of the Pliocene (Waipipian Stage, 3.7–3.0 Ma), but a more complete specimen would be needed to confidently resolve the evolutionary relationships between this fossil and other penguins.

Harmer and Thomas MEE 2019
An R package for video tracking and analysing animal movement

To meet the need for an efficient and cost‐effective video tracking and analysis tool, we have developed the pathtrackr package for the open‐source programming environment r. The pathtrackr package allows for an automated and consolidated workflow, from video input to statistical output (with addition of the open‐source FFmpeg application), of an animal's movement

Cole et al. MBE 2019
Mitogenomes uncover extinct penguin taxa and reveal island formation as a key driver of speciation

Mitogenomic analyses of all penguin species, and the discovery of two new extinct penguin taxa, highlight the importance of island formation in the diversification of penguins, as well as the extent to which anthropogenic extinctions have affected island-endemic taxa across the Southern Hemisphere's isolated archipelagos.

Thomas and McGraw J Ornithol 2018
Hidden carotenoids in the powder down of herons

Here we describe a rare form of “hidden” plumage coloration, whereby several species of heron (Pelecaniformes: Ardeidae) have powder down tracts liberally coated in yellow pigments that are hidden from view underneath contour feathers. We show using Raman spectroscopy and high-performance liquid chromatography that the yellow coloration is due to carotenoid pigmentation.

Barnsley et al. RSOS 2018
Frequency dispersion reveals chromophore diversity and colour-tuning mechanism in parrot feathers

Resonance Raman spectra from a red region of a yellow-naped amazon Amazona auropalliata tail feather show frequency dispersion, a phenomenon that is related to the presence of a range of molecular conformations (and multiple chromophores) in the pigment, whereas spectra from a yellow region on the same feather do not show the same evidence for multiple chromophores.

Thomas and Ksepka JSNZ 2016
The Glen Murray fossil penguin from the North Island of New Zealand extends the geographic range of Kairuku

The Glen Murray penguin is most likely a distinct species that should be assigned to the genus Kairuku, although we refer it to Kairuku sp. pending the discovery of more material. Reappraisal of local stratigraphy indicates that the Glen Murray fossil penguin is from the Dunphail Siltstone member of the Glen Massey Formation and can be assigned to the lower Whaingaroan stage (34.6–29.8 Ma).

Thomas et al. J Anat 2016
3D scanning and printing skeletal tissues for anatomy education

Detailed anatomical models can be produced with consumer-level 3D scanning and printing systems. 3D replication techniques are significant advances for anatomical education as they allow practitioners to more easily introduce diverse or numerous specimens into classrooms. Here we present a methodology for producing anatomical models in-house, with the chondrocranium cartilage from a spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias) and the skeleton of a cane toad (Rhinella marina) as case studies.

Aguirre et al. RSMS 2016
Loved to pieces: Toward the sustainable management of the Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf

Here, we review the natural and social context of the Waitematā Harbour and Hauraki Gulf, and summarise some of the pressures the region faces. Last, we present three case studies highlighting current participatory initiatives aimed at ensuring more sustainable management of the region’s marine ecosystems.