'We are right on the doorstep of some of New Zealand’s most amazing wilderness...'
Studying towards a PhD in Ecology
Self-employed Freshwater Ecologist
With years spent studying qualifications in environmental science and conservation, and with his own freshwater ecology business, Steve decided that there was more he could contribute to aquatic ecology with a PhD.
‘As a freshwater ecologist I often encountered gaps in our knowledge. Numerous times I found myself thinking “somebody should find out”. Eventually I decided to put my career on hold, enrol in a PhD, and conduct research to “find out”,’ he says.
Steve’s particular area of interest is insects that live in freshwater rivers in New Zealand, in particular mayflies, and the affect the ecosystem has on their growth and distribution.
‘There is a fair bit of media coverage at the moment about dirty streams and unhealthy rivers. The insects I study can be used as biological indicators to assess the quality of the rivers.
‘Insects have an important function in river ecosystems; many graze on the algae in the rivers and in turn are eaten by species of freshwater fish. But there is a lot we don’t know about the New Zealand river insects, and my PhD research is improving our knowledge of insect ecology within freshwater ecosystems.’
His research sees him spend a lot of time out in the field, especially during the summer months when the insects are most active. Having a self-professed ‘love spending time in the outdoors’, the extensive field work is a definite bonus.
Being originally from Northland, Steve was motivated to move to Canterbury for the outdoor experiences.
‘Studying in Christchurch, we are right on the doorstep of some of New Zealand’s most amazing wilderness,’ he says. ‘Whether that’s climbing in the mountains, tramping in the beech forests, fishing in the lakes, or diving around the coast. And accessing iconic outdoor locations like Tasman, West Coast, Queenstown and Southland are less than a days’ drive.’
UC’s reputation and specialist researchers in Ecology were also important factors. Steve’s PhD is supported by a Doctoral Scholarship through the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre, a Ngata Centenary UC Doctoral Scholarship, and operational research costs from the Miss E. L. Hellaby Indigenous Grasslands Research Trust.
‘Studying biological science is a passion and there are some exciting employment opportunities, for the right people,’ he says. ‘On completion of my PhD I intend to go back to running my business as a freshwater ecologist, and continue to improve our understanding of the aquatic fauna.’