Postgraduate Students

AENZ PhD Candidates

lorenzoLorenzo Fiori
lfiori@aut.ac.nz

My research interests range from cetacean interactions with tourism activities, to the use of small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as a tool for marine mammal research. In particular, my PhD study focus is on the behaviour of humpback whales during vessel approach and in-water human interactions. The primary research goals of this project are to (1) quantify the interaction levels between whales and watching vessels, (2) determine the short-term responses to whale-watching vessel approaches and the potential behavioural shifts of whales across encounters, (3) quantify responses of whales to in-water tourism activities. Furthermore, this study will provide baseline data for conservation government agencies and important guidelines for tour operators involved in whale-watching tourism.
I am also involved in the investigation of behavioural responses of dolphins to small UAVs. I hold a CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Australia) Remote Pilot Certificate, and I am working with AUT Centre for UAV Research to test Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) waterproof platforms.

Harriet AchiHarriet Achi
harriet.achi@aut.ac.nz

My PhD project focuses on invasive species: How can we better engage communities in initiating sustainable conservation strategies that would lead to a pest-free environment? I am interested in understanding human behaviour and the degree of influence it has on an effective and sustainable conservation programme. I am curious about how people shape their values and how these affect conservation strategies. Also, I'm interested in a trans-disciplinary approach which combines concepts such as social networking, community-based social marketing, and living laboratories to understand this complex social-ecology interface. Presently, I am investigating into invasive species management in an enclosed system, which is a recurring conservation issue.

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Harriet AchiEmma Betty
emma.betty@aut.ac.nz

The overall goal of this PhD research programme is to improve understanding of the life history of pilot whales stranded on the New Zealand coast, and to identify any relationships between mass stranding events and life history characteristics that may have implications for the conservation of pilot whales in New Zealand waters.

Specifically, this research will (1) investigate both historical and recent stranding patterns, (2) examine age structure, growth rates and growth patterns/allometry, (3) investigate male gonadal/sexual development and reproductive seasonality, (4) determine female reproductive parameters and (5) describe the diet of pilot whales stranded on the New Zealand coast. This study will make an important contribution to our scientific understanding of pilot whales in New Zealand waters, provide some of the first data on the poorly understood southern subspecies of the long-finned pilot whale, and will also serve as part of a basic framework from which further work in the field can be undertaken.

Steph BorrelleStephanie Borrelle
sborrelle@aut.ac.nz

My research interests are varied, but I am particularly captivated by seabirds. My PhD research is investigating the resilience of Procellariiforme seabird species (burrowing petrels, shearwaters, and albatrosses), to multiple marine based threats, such as plastic pollution, climate change, and commercial fisheries. Procellariiformes are the most threatened group of vertebrates, and are experiencing the greatest population declines of all seabirds. I am also investigating indirect and rapid evaluation methods, such as remote sensing technology, to monitor and assess the temporal dynamics of seabird colonies on remote islands, which can be used to inform conservation prioritisation and adaptive management strategies of offshore islands that support the world's seabird populations

Steph BorrelleHeather Braid
hbraid@aut.ac.nz

I am a PhD student working on the population genetics of arrow squid (Nototodarus gouldi and N. sloanii) in New Zealand waters. These species are both commercially fished, and the overall aim of this project is to help ensure a sustainable fishery. I will be using microsatellites and RAD-Seq for population genetics, and DNA barcoding to analyse their gut contents. In addition, I am also continuing to work on deep-sea squid systematics and ecology.spacerspacer

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Jarrod CusensJarrod Cusens
jcusens@aut.ac.nz

I have broad interests in a range of ecological topics including community and functional ecology, ecophysiology and biogeography. My PhD project focuses on tree growth using New Zealand mangroves as a model ecosystem. We aim to elucidate the specific conditions under which growth occurs at high temporal resolution e.g., intraday. We are also trying to understand the carbon dynamics of these trees and how carbon source and sink activity contributes to growth under the changing conditions.

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Alicia Donnellan BarracloughAlicia Donnellan Barraclough
adonnell@aut.ac.nz

I am interested in studying the role that plants play in global water and carbon cycles by applying an ecophysiological perspective across different spatial scales. The aim of my project is to use New Zealand temperate mangrove forests as a model system, to allow a better understanding of tree water and carbon dynamics under changing environmental conditions. To achieve this I will combine both fine scale state-of-the-art ecophysiology sensors with large scale remote sensing (UAVs). With this broad array of tools, I hope to get a good picture of water use in our system.

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Aaron Boyd EvansAaron Boyd Evans
aaevans@aut.ac.nz

My PhD research investigates the systematics and ecology of the squid family Cranchiidae, with a focus on those species from the Pacific Ocean. Members of the family are abundant in all oceans; however, like many deep-sea squid, little is known about them. This research examines the physical features that differentiate one species from the next, as well as morphological changes that occur through the development of the animal during its life. Where possible, I will be exploring predator-prey interactions, as many larger marine species are known to feed on cranchiids, yet little is known about what the squid themselves eat. I am most excited to examine Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, commonly known as the colossal squid, as it is the largest member of this family.

Iana GritcanIana Gritcan
igritcan@aut.ac.nz

With my strong background in chemistry and biochemistry, I am interested in applying my knowledge to studying plants under extreme environmental conditions, such as mangroves living in marine tidal conditions. Specifically, my PhD project focuses on investigating how metabolic processes differ in mangroves growing under various salinity and nutrient conditions.  To answer this question, I am undertaking field and laboratory experiments to expose mangrove plants to different environmental conditions. Avicennia marina subsp australasica, is the only mangrove species growing in New Zealand, and it is at the southernmost limit of mangrove distribution worldwide.  In addition, this study will provide valuable information regarding how this species is affected by anthropogenic pressure and how it can modify ecological processes within these unique estuarine ecosystems.

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Sridevi RaviSridevi Ravi
sravi@aut.ac.nz

My background is in ecology and environmental sciences from Pondicherry University, India. I am primarily interested in studying plant ecology. My questions revolve around the physiological responses of plants when subjected to drought. I am also interested in gymnosperm and angiosperm interactions from an ecophysiology perspective. I aim to answer some of my questions from experiments with the New Zealand native species and mangrove species, Avicennia marina australisica.

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Sridevi RaviJoshua Thoresen
jojeffre@aut.ac.nz

I have a broad range of interests across ecology and beyond, but my primary fascination is with food webs; what Darwin termed the 'tangled bank'. My PhD research is focused on the effects of seabird ecosystem engineering and nutrient subsidies on island food web dynamics over time and space.

spacer I am using a combination of network analysis and stable isotopes to construct food webs based on leaf litter invertebrates. I will then analyse how these food webs vary structurally across and within three different islands that follow a chronosequence of ecosystem restoration. I will also be using different chemistry methods to analyse the biogeochemistry of these islands, looking at how nutrient subsidies vary in space and time and how they may affect food web dynamics.

Sean WeiSean Wei
swei@aut.ac.nz

My research project is the functional ecology in Antarctic Dry Valleys. The McMurdo Dry Valleys are a largely ice-free polar desert protected by international treaty as an Antarctic Special Managed Area. The terrestrial landscape is dominated by oligotrophic mineral soil with extensive rocky outcrops. The Dry Valleys possess an extreme climate with severe environmental stress: low temperature, lack of liquid water, UV exposure and oligotrophic substrate. In this ecosystem, higher animals and plants are absent except microorganisms. Several studies have elucidated the microbial diversity and structure of niche communities (open soil, endolith and hypolith) by using phylogenetic markers; however little is known about the functionaility and the stress tolerance mechanisms. Here I am using two metagenomic approaches: DNA functional array, Geochip and next generation sequencing, Miseq to interrogate the metabolic pathways and stress response genes.

Peter WilsonPeter Wilson
peter.wilson@aut.ac.nz

My PhD research focuses on predicting coastal sediment sulfide concentrations from sediment-profile images. Higher concentrations of organic matter are deposited in the coastal environment as a result of increasing human activities. Monitoring the effects of such deposits on the environment is essential, but how do we do it?

I am investigating whether it is possible to identify these black iron sulfide minerals from sediment-profile images, which we can easily obtain in the field using an underwater instrument. The aim is to develop a rapid assessment tool to assess the effects of organic enrichment in the coastal environment. I have applied this technique to the assessment of marine farms in the Hauraki Gulf to detect the area over which they affect the seafloor.