Prestigious Rutherford Discovery Fellowship awarded to Dr Rebecca Lawton for marine kelp research

27 October 2023

Dr Rebecca Lawton Rutherford Discovery Fellow
Dr Rebecca Lawton, 2023 Rutherford Discovery Fellow

Dr Rebecca Lawton, Senior Lecturer in Marine Science and Aquaculture at the University of Waikato is looking to reverse the tide on kelp loss with her newly awarded Rutherford Discovery Fellowship from the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

Many people rely on kelp in their everyday lives – it’s added to shampoo, face cream and food products such as yoghurt. Kelp forests also provide habitat, food, and shelter for some of our favourite kaimoana and taonga species. And all this is under threat from ocean warming and marine heatwaves with kelp forests declining at twice the annual rate of coral reefs and four times faster than rainforests.

“Kelp forests cover almost a third of the world’s coastlines. Significant efforts are required to restore natural populations; however, traditional methods to identify and improve tolerance to the increasing heat are no longer adequate,” says Dr Lawton.

Dr Rebecca Lawton and Emer Murphy
Dr Rebecca Lawton, University of Waikato and Emer Murphy, technician at Premium Seas Ltd collecting kelp broodstock

With the Rutherford Discovery Fellowship, she’ll build a team in the field of kelp restoration, integrating aquaculture, iwi and community involvement.

For Māori, kelp was traditionally used to transport and relocate shellfish, was preserved as a food source, and some species remain culturally valued taonga. Kelp also accounts for more than 40% of the billion-dollar global aquaculture industry.

“The aim is to create a biological sciences ‘toolkit’ for identifying, mapping, and improving heat tolerance of the common kelp species Ecklonia radiata,” says Dr Lawton. 

The research will start with a series of experiments to identify heat tolerant varieties of kelp, and treatments that improve heat tolerance at different stages of the kelp lifecycle.

“Then in partnership with Ngāti Whakahemo we’ll use a mātauranga Māori-informed approach to co-design and co-implement a kelp restoration toolkit,” says Dr Lawton.

Dr Rebecca Lawton

University of Waikato Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, Professor Karin Bryan, says: “With the unprecedented number of marine heat waves being experienced around Aotearoa New Zealand, I am delighted that Dr Lawton will be able to focus on this critically important problem over the next five years.”

Dr Lawton’s fellowship will provide a practical example of how cutting-edge scientific techniques can integrate with Māori worldviews to build capacity and enhance restoration success.

Additionally, this project will contribute to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), placing Aotearoa as a global leader in the development of innovative approaches for future-proofing seaweed aquaculture.

Latest stories

Related stories

Research leader and Antarctica expert to join Waikato as Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research

The University of Waikato has announced the appointment of Professor Gary Wilson to the role…

University of Waikato researchers receive record-level Marsden funding to explore bold ideas for the future

The University of Waikato is celebrating its most successful Marsden funding round yet.

Raukokore Marine Research

Waikato supports Raukōkore Marine Research Centre opening

The Raukōkore Marine Research Centre has officially opened, providing a crucial research base for the…

Dr Jason Mika

Significant funding boost for University of Waikato research

The University of Waikato has achieved significant results in the latest funding round from the…

Dr Haki Tuaupiki and Associate Professor Maui Hudson

Waikato researchers tapped for US$30m Centre for braiding Indigenous knowledge and science

Two University of Waikato researchers have been shoulder-tapped as investigators within the newly launched NSF…

Scholarship recipient honours cherished former staff member

Third year Bachelor of Business and Bachelor of Science student, Petra Guy, is the inaugural…

IDI Lab sign

Newly refurbished Waikato IDI Lab a catalyst for fostering academic-industry collaboration

The University of Waikato re-opened its newly refurbished Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) Lab; a catalyst…

3MT group photo 2023

Captive kiwi management researcher takes out tight competition

Te Aka Mātuatua School of Science animal behaviour researcher Rebecca Connor won the University's 3…

Professor Chris Battershill

Renowned scientist honoured for dedication to marine conservation

World-renowned marine scientist Professor Chris Battershill has been honoured for his significant contributions to marine…

Professor Holly Thorpe

Reimagining fields of play to grow the future of women in sport through world-class research

Waikato hosts global symposium to tackle issues from building gender-inclusive sporting environments to menstrual health…

Copyright Todd M. Henry 2020a

Kava based therapy for psychological trauma reaches clinical trial milestone

Waikato Pacific health researcher Dr Apo Aporosa has been awarded a Health Research Council grant…

Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts

Te Kāhui a Kiwa - driving awareness and dialogue on Indigenous trade

Indigenous and international speakers meet this week at the University of Waikato to share their…