Faculty of Science - Leading creativity and innovation in the sciences

Take 10 with... Dr Diana LaScala-Gruenewald

Jasus edwardsii, the southern rock lobster

Dr Diana LaScala-Gruenewald is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Marine Science. She give us 10 minutes of her time to discuss the declining numbers of spiny lobster due to low numbers of offspring and high fishing pressure. 

1.     Describe your research topic to us in ten words or less.

The movement ecology and habitat use of the spiny lobster Jasus edwardsii in a coastal Marine Reserve.

2.     Now describe it in layman’s terms!

Over the past two decades, the abundance of the spiny lobster Jasus edwardsii both inside and outside of marine reserves in northern New Zealand has declined.  This decline is most likely due to low numbers of offspring and high fishing pressure.  Over the next few years, my colleagues and I will explore how this lobster species moves within the Cape Rodney-Okakari Point Marine Reserve.  We know that the lobsters use the near-shore rocky reef during moulting and mating, and then travel offshore to sandy habitats to search for food.  These offshore movements take them beyond the boundaries of the marine reserve, where they are vulnerable to fishing.  We hope that by tracking lobsters’ movements and quantifying when and how they’re using habitats both inside and outside the marine reserve, we can help inform better conservation and management practices for this commercially, ecologically and culturally important species.

3.     Describe some of your day-to-day research activities you carry out?

Currently, I am designing a grid of acoustic receivers that will be placed in the marine reserve to “listen” for signals from lobsters bearing acoustic tags.  This work involves field tests of the receivers, and computer-based analyses of their performance.  In the near future, I will be deploying the receiver grid, and then catching and tagging lobsters, which we hope to track for up to a year.

4.     What do you enjoy most about your research?

I love working in and on the ocean, and exploring how other animals survive and thrive in their unique environments.  My work gives me the opportunity to be outside, to marvel at the creative and complex strategies that “simple” animals employ, and to dive into data to discover answers to questions that no one has asked before.

5.     Tell us something that has surprised you in the course of your research.

I am always surprised by how behaviourally complex animals can be.  Over the course of my scientific career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with and observe animals with varying sensory and neurological capabilities.  Even simple invertebrates with few neurons and no ability to perceive their surroundings can often search for food and mates, leave a permanent home location and return again, and react effectively to numerous biological and physical cues in their environments.

6.     What questions have emerged as a result?

Discovering unexpected complexity in animal ecology and behaviour always results in ideas for new observations, measurements and experiments.

7.     How have you approached any challenges you’ve faced in your research?

Research is full of challenges, from designing experiments, building equipment and trouble-shooting, to executing experiments, designing models and interpreting data.  In each of these areas, I strive to use the resources around me as effectively as possible.  I usually approach a challenge by learning what others have done, asking for advice from friends, colleagues and experts, and trying new things.

8.     What kind of impact do you hope your research will have?

First, I hope my work will provide valuable information that will inform our understanding of lobster biology, ecology, behaviour and conservation.  In the future, studies like mine may help managers develop new guidelines for marine reserves and sustainable fishing practices.  Second, I hope my work will yield information that can be shared with the public via outreach efforts.  People only strive to protect what they love, and it is impossible to love the unknown.

9.     If you collaborate across the faculty or University, who do you work with and how does it benefit your research?

I have only been at the University of Auckland since June 2017, and have yet to establish new collaborations with the faculty, although I hope to do so in the future.

10.  What one piece of advice would you give your younger, less experienced research selves?

In research, it is important to remember that you’re doing something no one has done before.  It’s okay not to have all the answers right away.  Be confident enough to ask questions and share ideas.  Your guess is likely as good as anyone else’s.