Take 10 with... Carolyn Lundquist

Associate Professor Carolyn Lundquist from the Institute of Marine Science, and Principal Scientist - Marine Ecology at NIWA, gives us 10 minutes of her time to discuss her research on marine biodiversity and ecosystem function.

Associate Professor Carolyn Lundquist
Associate Professor Carolyn Lundquist, Institute of Marine Science, and Principal Scientist - Marine Ecology at NIWA | Taihoro Nukurangi

1.  Describe your research topic to us in 10 words or less.

Marine socio-ecological systems research and biodiversity conservation.

2.  Now describe it in everyday terms!

In general, most of what I do is at the boundary of science and society - what are the decisions we need to make, and how do we bring in the science we need to make these decisions, whether this is where to put marine reserves, or to protect or remove mangroves, or where to ban trawl fishing to protect sensitive habitats. Most of my research involves modelling of marine biodiversity and improving our understanding of how ecosystems function.

Over the years, my research interests have evolved from just doing the ‘science’ to leading stakeholder workshops. These bring decision-makers along on a process of what science and mātauranga is available, and how we can use it to make good decisions.

3.   What are some of the day-to-day research activities you carry out?

I’m a member of the University of Auckland/NIWA Joint Graduate School in Coastal and Marine Science, so my working life is split between 20% UOA and 80% NIWA. I’m a bit of ‘Jane of all things marine ecology’ - I work across ecosystems ranging from coasts and estuaries, to the deep sea – basically working in any ecosystem where I can apply the tools and skills I have to help solve problems.

Most of my research is applied or mission-driven science, often working directly with regional and central government to provide solutions for managing New Zealand’s oceans. I do still manage to sneak in at least a handful of days of field work each year, but most of my time is spent behind a desk running models, writing papers and grant proposals, running stakeholder workshops, and supervising a fantastic group of graduate students.

4.  What do you enjoy most about your research?

Tracking my research through to see how it is influencing decisions about how we manage the oceans.

For example, after the first major resource consent was approved to remove mangroves, I developed a research programme to fill the large gaps in our understanding of New Zealand mangrove ecosystems and the societal values that were required to better inform mangrove management. This research has changed how mangroves are managed in all four ‘mangrove’ regional councils, and was used as the primary scientific information that underpinned the decision on a parliamentary bill on mangrove management.

I also enjoy working with graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. This includes mentoring people early in their careers, and being part of the enthusiasm as they develop their research careers and learn new skills that set them up for employment.

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

One of the more unexpected things I did was to write a film script! I was in charge of developing one of five ‘narratives’ of how the oceans would be different if we implemented EBM (ecosystem-based management) for a project led by Alison Greenaway at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research. It was a bit strange but also exciting to watch my script (with surprisingly few changes!) turn into this short film

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

I tend to have very eclectic interests, so a lot of the challenge is when something new strikes my fancy. I then need to figure out what part of the puzzle I don’t have the skills to answer, and then build a team of collaborators that fills all the research gaps.

7.  What questions have emerged as a result?

Heaps of great collaborations! Years ago, not long out of postdoctoral research, I sent a cold call email to Richard Le Heron from the School of Environment as I needed a social science perspective on a grant proposal. This has turned into collaborations on many projects over the years, from the Marine Futures project to the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.

More recent collaborations have brought artists on board and I now regularly involve graphic illustrators in workshops. It is pretty amazing how much more progress you make when people can ‘see’ cartoons and diagrams of what they are discussing.

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

I’ve been quite lucky, in that I can already see a lot of impact from most of my research. I’m particularly proud of one ongoing project, where we provided the biodiversity models and use of decision support tools to inform a ‘live’ stakeholder process. While being involved in ‘live’ processes means there are often late nights responding to urgent queries, our science was the backbone of an international agreement to close a large area of seafloor (~2.5 million km2) to fishing to protect deep sea corals.

In another international project, I lead a UN IPBES taskforce developing new global biodiversity scenarios that will underpin international biodiversity targets and assessments.

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

I’m a bit spoiled in that I probably have 50+ people that I regularly collaborate with from my two decades at NIWA and nearly a decade at UOA, as well as many relationships further developed while on the Science Leadership Team of the Sustainable Seas.

I initially came to New Zealand from the United States to do postdoctoral research with Professor Simon Thrush in the Institute of Marine Science. Simon and I continue to collaborate on a range of projects, currently with Sustainable Seas funding to model cumulative effects and disturbance and recovery of seafloor ecosystems.

In the School of Biological Sciences and the Institute of Marine Science, I collaborate with Brendon Dunphy on green lipped mussel connectivity. I bring larval ecology and modelling and Brendon brings microchemistry and laser ablation skills.

In the School of Environment, I regularly collaborate with Associate Professor Luitgard Schwendenmann on mangrove ecosystems. Luitgard complements my ecological knowledge with nutrient and carbon dynamics. Collaborations with social scientists Associate Professor Karen Fisher and Professor Richard Le Heron in particular have helped diversify my way of thinking.

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

Don’t be afraid to talk to the experts in the room. I remember as a graduate student struggling to have the guts to introduce myself to the ‘big names’ at conferences. However, these small conversations often made huge differences in my future career, by initiating a research collaboration, or I spoke to someone who knew someone that I had applied for a job with.

Also, don’t avoid presentations – rather, give heaps of presentations to get over the fear of public speaking - I’ll just say that early in my career, it was not one of my strong points!