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Early and Emerging Career Researcher Award

Freshwater scientist named UC’s 2020 emerging career researcher

18 August 2023

Meet Dr Jonathan Tonkin from our School of Biological Sciences who won the 2020 UC Early and Emerging Career Researcher Award. This was in recognition of his outstanding research contribution over the past decade.


Rivers around the world are under mounting pressure from pollution, invasive species, land use change and climate change. Dr Jonathan Tonkin, UC Senior Lecturer and Rutherford Discovery Fellow, is at the leading edge of international research seeking solutions on how to prepare freshwater ecosystems for an ever more uncertain future.

Globally, he is recognised both for his theoretical work in this area and for his leadership on communicating the pressing need for new, adaptive approaches to managing river flows including the use of forecasting tools. As well as having his work published in leading science journals, he has enabled advances in multiple fields through his collaborative research endeavours. In New Zealand, his research findings have paved the way to improving access to ecosystems for native migratory fish.

“I’m thrilled to have received this award that, by extension, acknowledges the need for action to protect and proactively manage precious river ecosystems,” says Dr Tonkin. “It is imperative that we understand the biological mechanisms that underpin these ecosystems so we are better able to foresee how to intervene more effectively to manage threats.”

Dr Tonkin lectured at a university in China for a year before starting his post-doctoral research career in earnest in Germany in 2013. Over the past two years, since returning home, Dr Tonkin has become firmly established in the New Zealand science landscape. He has received the inaugural NZ Freshwater Sciences Society Early Career Researcher Award (2018), a prestigious Rutherford Discovery Fellowship ($800,000) and other research funding.

Since starting his faculty position at UC in September 2019, Dr Tonkin has recruited three PhD students and is an Associate Supervisor for two PhD students and two Masters students. He strives to actively share his research with local councils, iwi and conservation groups, as well as on various media platforms.

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