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She Studies Seaweed By The Seashore: The Arising Researcher

Published on: Oct 15, 2020

Tramping through podocarp forests, scrambling up alpine zones, stumbling through tussock grasslands, and clambering along rocky coastlines were common activities I enjoyed as an undergraduate student studying Ecology and Botany at the University of Otago, in southern New Zealand. We set out to test the theories of great ecologists such as Gleason, Grime, MacArthur, and Wilson, which allowed us to develop our understanding of ecology as well as familiarize ourselves with the surrounding environment. Being able to continually explore unique and diverse ecosystems reinforced my desire to study ecology.

A favorite field site of mine was the rocks at Brighton Beach, where we would rush to survey the intertidal macroalgae before the waves came too close. We relied on field guides filled with beautifully hand‐drawn illustrations from the botanical artist Nancy Adams to identify the unique macroalgal species. However, after discovering Wendy Nelson's identification guides to New Zealand coralline algae, it became apparent that not all species could be identified through their morphology. Coralline algae are generally observed growing as pink crusts on coastal rocks. The difficulty of distinguishing coralline species in the field means that they are often lumped together as one functional group. However, Wendy's work is showing that there are countless more species than we previously thought, which is impacting how this distinct group is studied.

To read the rest of this article in The Bulletin, please click here.