Scholarships awarded for two new studies

11 November 2013

Gemma Collins Scholarship recipient: Gemma Collins is the recipient of an ERI masters scholarship.
The New Zealand daphne and tiny Antarctic invertebrates called springtails are the focus of two new studies being carried out by University of Waikato postgraduate science students.

Doctoral scholarship 

Steven Pratt has been awarded a doctoral scholarship from the University’s Environmental Research Institute (ERI), worth $22,000 a year plus fees for three years' full time study, to research the genetics and molecular systematics of New Zealand Pimelea, sometimes known as New Zealand daphne.

Masters scholarship 

Gemma Collins is the recipient of an ERI $12,000 masters scholarship, $3,500 of which will contribute to fees, to study how the genetic diversity of springtails might change in response to warming air temperatures.

“This means I’ll be going down to Antarctica this summer to collect samples twice a day for five weeks,” says Gemma. “I want to study differences in the genetic sequences of springtails to see if they correlate with differences in their activity over time (daily and seasonally). If air temperatures continue to increase, what we don’t want is the springtails that are more active during warmer conditions to outcompete the colder-adapted ones because that will reduce total diversity.”

Genetic diversity 

Gemma says it’s important to ensure genetic diversity is maintained so that the populations have greater potential to further adapt to changing environmental conditions.

She also plans to study the distribution of freshwater rotifers (a type of zooplankton) in New Zealand lakes, to indicate water quality. She completed her Bachelor of Science (Technology) at Waikato which included a work placement in Montreal, Canada for eight months. It was when she was in Montreal that she decided she wanted to continue her study.

Genetic variation 

Steven Pratt is researching the genetic variation between different species of Pimelea. “There are 35 known species in New Zealand and about two-thirds of them have a conservation status, meaning they are at risk of extinction or data deficient,” says Steven.

The work Steven is doing is different to previous work in the field carried out by now retired ecologist Dr Colin Burrows. “His research was based on morphology, the form and characteristics of the plant, so it will be interesting to find out if our genetic sequencing produces similar or very different results,” Steven says.

Steven’s research will be supervised by Dr Chrissen Gemmill from Waikato and Drs Peter Heenan and Rob Smissen from Landcare Research at Lincoln University.

Tissue samples 

Steven will be collecting tissue samples from the plants to extract DNA for sequencing and subsequent analysis. “We also want to develop microsatellite markers so we can investigate population-level variation for critically endangered species. This will augment conservation efforts by ensuring that genetically similar individuals are planted for restoration of at-risk populations.”

The University of Waikato's six flagship research institutes offered new doctoral and masters scholarships for the first time this year. The research institutes support world-class research in environmental science, demography and economic analysis, business and leadership, professional learning and development, education, and Māori and indigenous development. Each institute offered one doctoral and one masters scholarship.