Wendy Nelson

Job title and place of work

Programme Leader, Biological Resources, Coasts & Oceans National Centre, NIWA; Professor, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland

What is your role in the CARIM project? What work package are you contributing to?

I am a phycologist – someone who specialises in studying marine macroalgae or seaweeds – and I am contributing to RA 4 along with Brenton Twist (PhD student – funded through MPI biodiversity project). We are particularly focusing on coralline algae – red seaweeds that have calcium carbonate in their cell walls, and are therefore vulnerable to the impacts of ocean acidification. We are collaborating with Miles Lamare and Chris Hepburn at the University of Otago with research based at Karitane, north Otago.

Coralline algae are major components of reefs from the tropics to the polar regions, and they are important in supporting and stabilising reef structures, provide habitat for a wide range of other marine species, as well as releasing settlement cues for invertebrate larvae.

Baseline information in New Zealand is very limited as far as how many and which coralline algae occur, where they are found. Also, if they are characteristic of certain habitat types, and if they are associated with particular species assemblages.

Evaluating fundamental relationships and gathering baseline information becomes increasingly important in the face of ocean acidification, which could have negative impacts on coralline algae, and in turn have flow on effects to the entire reef ecosystem.


What do you do on an average work day?

There is no such thing as an average day!! – sometimes I am in the field, carrying out observations, gathering data, making collections of samples to study back in the lab. I also work in the lab looking at specimens, making measurements, and comparing and analysing results. Other times I am at my desk writing, preparing reports.

Why is studying coastal acidification important?

Coastal acidification has the potential to have significant impacts on a wide range of coastal activities. This research will help us understand possible impacts on key ecosystem processes and, in the case of my part of the project, the links between coralline algae, paua larvae and recruitment.

What study did you do at high school? And after high school?

I focused on science subjects from about year 11 onwards (biology, chemistry, physics and maths) with english and french. After high school I went to the University of Auckland for 3 years majoring in both botany and zoology, and then I did an Honours year at Victoria University of Wellington with Botany as my major but also with marine ecology. I then went to Canada to the University of British Columbia to do a PhD in Botany – it was a centre for research on all aspects of algal biology, ecology and physiology, as well as oceanography – so it was a great place to study. 

What outcomes from CARIM do you think there will be?

Data that will help New Zealand understand probable impacts of changing ocean conditions – from citizens through to government decision makers, aquaculture and fisheries industries - and enable us to plan more effectively for the future.

What excites you about working on this project?

This project is gathering data from such a variety of sources, and enabling scientists with different skills and strengths in a wide range of disciplines to work together and tackle difficult science questions that are important to our communities.