Fellowship supports international study on coastal biodiversity and ecosystem resilience

Dr Rebecca Gladstone-Gallagher

Sustainable Seas researcher Dr Rebecca Gladstone-Gallagher (University of Auckland) has been awarded a Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to investigate the role of biodiversity in maintaining coastal ecosystem health and resilience to change.

Dr Gladstone-Gallagher’s project will build on research from the Sustainable Seas Tipping Points project led by Professor Simon Thrush (University of Auckland).

She is studying how coastal ecosystems are impacted by human activities on land and in the sea. Animals that live at the seafloor are a critical part of the coastal ecosystem. They influence water quality and provide a food source for fish species. However, multiple sources of disturbance to the coastal environment, such as fishing, sediment and nutrient runoff, are eroding seafloor biodiversity and causing a loss of ecosystem services.

“In order to prevent further degradation in societally valuable coastal marine ecosystems, it is critical that we understand the factors that make them vulnerable to different types of disturbance,” says Dr Gladstone-Gallagher

The research project, which starts in April 2019, will investigate factors that contribute to resilience of coastal biodiversity at different ecological scales. It will explore biological traits of individual species, populations, and communities of interacting seafloor species that help them tolerate or recover from human disturbances.

One part of the project will compare Aotearoa New Zealand’s highly biodiverse seafloor with that of Finland, where there is naturally low biodiversity. The comparison will explore how different scales and types of biodiversity provide resilience to disturbance. In both locations, she will examine how different species tolerate stress, their population connectivity and spread, and how they respond to different levels of environmental disturbance. She will be working closely with researchers at the University of Helsinki, Finland.

Dr Gladstone-Gallagher’s research will contribute knowledge that is critical to inform decision making around the setting of acceptable limits for human disturbance of our coastal ecosystems.

Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships provides early career support for New Zealand’s brightest and most promising researchers.

“This fellowship gives me the opportunity to work with, and learn from, some of the world’s leading seafloor ecologists, in both New Zealand and Finland, kick-starting my exciting internationally collaborative research career,” says Dr Gladstone-Gallagher.