Rutherford Discovery Fellowship awarded for conservation management methods

06 October 2017
Dr Emma Carroll, School of Biological Sciences
Dr Emma Carroll

Dr Emma Carroll, a PhD graduate and post-doctoral fellow from the School of Biological Sciences, has been awarded a 2017 Rutherford Discovery Fellowship.

Dr Carroll is a molecular ecologist and statistical modeller who combines micro-chemical markers, genomics, and life history data to investigate and monitor natural populations.

The Fellowship is for a new research project entitled: Family matters: developing close kin mark recapture methods to estimate key demographic parameters in natural populations.

Dr Carroll is currently at the Scottish Oceans Institute, University of St Andrews, Scotland. As a Research Fellow, with a Newton International Research Fellowship and a Marie Curie Research Fellowship, she investigates the influence of migratory culture on connectivity in the southern right whale (Eubalaena australis).

Taking up the Rutherford Discovery Fellowship will bring her back to the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland.

"The Rutherford Discovery Fellowship is an amazing opportunity to pursue a world-class research project, and do it at home in New Zealand,” she says.

“My five-year project will bring together genomics technologies with novel statistical models to answer important conservation questions, with a focus on New Zealand right whales, Tohora, and their South Atlantic counterparts.

“I am looking forward to building a scientific career at the University of Auckland, and working on questions important to conservation in New Zealand."

In an era of accelerating extinction rates, effective conservation management is paramount and requires a good understanding of key population parameters such as abundance, survival, and growth rates of affected species.

Dr Carroll will be using a new statistical technique, Close-Kin Mark-Recapture (CKMR), that provides key population parameters from a short-term sample.

Dr Carroll will combine the CKMR method with genetic biomarkers to identify parent-offspring pairs and estimate age to determine who is the parent and who is the offspring. This information will then be used to estimate abundance, survival, and growth rates of the New Zealand southern right whale (Eubalaena australis), which is still recovering from over a century of whaling.

Published estimates of these parameters, along with ample archived genetic material, make this population of whales the perfect model to validate Dr Carroll’s new statistical framework.

Once validated, Dr Carroll will apply her method to the under-studied South Georgia population of southern right whales in the sub-Antarctic South Atlantic.

Her findings will provide valuable information on an endangered species and generate new methodologies that can be applied more broadly in the field of ecology.