August 17, 2008

Hagfish Diet Work Wins Science Prize

RESEARCH on the diet of the toothless and blind hagfish has won Rebecca McLeod the 2008 MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year award.

The marine ecologist studies the diet of the primitive scavenging creature, which lives up to 400 metres below sea level in New Zealand fiords.

Her research showed clearing coastal forests can alter the way marine ecosystems work. The work has implications for coastal management in New Zealand and internationally.

Dr McLeod won the $10,000 premier young scientist award announced at a function in Auckland last night.

She also won a trip to an international science conference, as well as the Understanding Planet Earth category of the awards, named for Nobel Prize-winning New Zealand-born scientist Alan MacDiarmid.

Dr McLeod encountered the jawless, toothless blind creature on a dive in Fiordland. Her research into its diet revealed a food web in which coastal deep-water creatures relied on recycled energy from Fiordland's coastal forests.

Dr McLeod, 30, who completed her PhD at Otago University this year, developed new chemistry tools which revealed energy transfer between the forest and the sea.

"That link between the condition of the forest and marine life has largely been ignored in the past," she said.

Massey University biomechanics PhD candidate Matthew Brodie, who is developing a world-first system to measure precise movements of downhill skiers, was named runner-up at the awards, which are presented annually by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.


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