Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dr. Rebecca McLeod takes "MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year Awards"

Dr. Rebecca McLeod

Excellent. Like recent Kathryn Tabb [Darwin Correspondence Project (United Kingdom)] another young woman has taken the top MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year Awards prize in New Zealand for her research on rain forests that their reduction "...can destroy life deep below the sea's surface, as well as that below the trees...."

"Fiordland study leads to top science laurel"


Craig Borley

August 15th, 2008

The New Zealand Herald

Cutting down rainforests can destroy life deep below the sea's surface, as well as that below the trees, a young Dunedin scientist has discovered.

The research won University of Otago marine ecologist Rebecca McLeod the top prize at last night's MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year Awards in Auckland.

A further 10 prizes were awarded, for young scientists researching topics ranging from well-meaning tourists' harmful effects on yellow-eyed penguins to preventing blue-stain fungi in timber.

Dr McLeod's research began 420m beneath Doubtful Sound, where the 30-year-old encountered the jawless, toothless and blind slimy hagfish.

She began to research the fish's diet, and discovered a complex food web - coastal deep-water creatures relied on neighbouring coastal forests for their food.

Slips and rivers transport logs and leaves to the sea. The vegetation sinks, rots like compost on the seafloor and produces hydrogen sulphide. That is then taken up by bacteria and, through chemical reactions, is turned into carbohydrate energy.

Those bacteria live inside clams and worms, which are eaten by the hagfish - meaning the forest nearly half a kilometre above is feeding the deep-water fish below.

She concluded the fish depended on the forest above for half their nutritional needs. Other common species, including blue cod and rock lobster, also obtained energy originally from the forests, she found.

Fiordland was one of the few places where intact rainforest bordered a pristine marine ecosystem, she said.

"That environment gives us an insight into how our coastal ecosystem functioned before humans started cutting down trees. That link, between the condition of the forest and marine life, has been largely ignored in the past.

"I guess we'll never really know how much the deforestation that's been carried out already has altered the marine environment."

Dr McLeod said the knowledge could help in future marine reserves.

Her win includes a cash prize of $10,000 and a trip to Britain to attend the British Association for the Advancement of Science festival. She is named the Young Scientist of the Year and also receives the MacDiarmid Medal.

Dr McLeod said the award would help her chances of securing research funding in New Zealand, allowing her to stay here and achieve her long-term goal - to be a NZ-based academic.

The lead judge of the awards, Rutherford Medal winner Professor Richard Faull, said the judges had looked for innovation and research brilliance, mixed with good communication and simple concepts.

"Darwin on Orchis Bank"--winning essay

[Thanks to stringer Tim.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not from New Zealand, but I comment on this because environmental concerns are global. They are also complex, and can only be understood with the involvement of people from around the world. Dr. McLeod is one of the many young people who have chosen to invest their careers in understanding and solving the environmental problems that they have inherited. Comment from