Thanks to the generous and visionary support of George Mason, alumnus of the University of Auckland, a young marine scientist is using a prestigious travel scholarship to the United States to aid her research into New Zealand ecosystems.
PhD student Jenny Hillman from the University’s Institute of Marine Science (IMS) is the first recipient of the George Mason Charitable Trust Award.
The scholarship was established by George Mason, who holds a Masters with Honours in Botany from the University of Auckland, as well as a PhD from the University of California, Davis, in Plant Physiology. This scholarship allows students from both institutions to benefit from his experience by supporting postgraduate research exchange to UC Davis, where Jenny is based from September to November 2015.
Using Mahurangi Harbour as a study system, Jenny is investigating how the connections between adjoining habitats affect an ecosystem’s ability to provide “services” to humans, such as food, recreation, and climate and disease control.
Jenny will be based at the UC Davis Stachowicz Marine Community Ecology Lab and the Grosholz Lab, broadening her research into ecosystem processes, mapping and management. She will also spend time at the Bodega Marine Laboratory.
The visit also provides an opportunity for UC Davis researchers to learn about what is happening in New Zealand, and to compare and contrast the work in California with a complementary region.
“Bodega Bay and Mahurangi Harbour are both large harbours which contain a range of different habitats, such as cockle beds, tube worm fields and sea-grass. On opposite sides of the Pacific, they both have similar climates and water temperatures,” Jenny says.
Jenny hopes to add to her research into the movement of materials such as mud, plant litter and nutrients between habitats. Understanding this movement and how it is impacted by human activities, such as pollution and land development, is important in recognising the value of estuarine ecosystems and supporting the sustainable management of natural coastal resources.
Jenny, in collaboration with IMS and Computer Science, has been using drones and 3D cameras to aid her studies, creating broad-scale habitat and fine-scale topographic maps, and hopes to introduce these techniques to her US counterparts.
“This is a new way to use this emerging technology so we are developing the techniques and software needed as we go,” she says.
Jenny wishes to thank the George Mason Charitable Trust for making her visit to UC Davis possible. Her findings will be compiled in a paper titled “The multiple dimensions of connectivity”.