PhD candidate, University of Queensland
Libby Liggins grew up with the coastal waters of Northland, New Zealand as her playground. She has remained passionate about this region, and is excited to return there to conduct research.
Libby completed her MSc (Master of Science degree) at Victoria University of Wellington where she studied skinks of mainland New Zealand and the Chatham Islands, but also found time to assist on several marine projects including Antarctic sea ice microbial communities. Libby has since returned to studying the marine realm for her PhD (Doctorate degree).
Her current research at the University of Queensland focuses on understanding the past and present colonization and dispersal patterns of marine organisms (mostly fish, but also echinoderms like starfish and urchins) around the reefs of Australia, parts of the Coral Triangle and the Pacific. She has expanded her research to include the Kermadec Islands and now looks forward to including the Three Kings Islands.
What do you hope to achieve on this expedition to the Three Kings?
I will be working to make sure we build up a collection of DNA samples for all the species and individuals we collect to be deposited at the Auckland Museum. These DNA collections will be very useful in research that uses genetic methods to help describe new species and to indirectly estimate the dispersal of marine animals around New Zealand and the rest of the Pacific (like my own). In particular I will be keeping an eye out for any tropical species for which I already have collections from elsewhere – I want to know where they have come from, and how long they have been at the Three Kings Islands. I also hope to learn more about the Three Kings Islands and the marine organisms of this part of New Zealand, both through my own experience and from the other very well experienced scientists aboard the voyage.
What skills are you bringing to the team?
I am an experienced SCUBA diver and snorkeler and have experience in collecting fish and invertebrates using various methods. I also have good knowledge of how to collect and preserve DNA samples from these animals. I have taken part in many similar scientific expeditions and really enjoy getting involved in the work of others, so I will be helping out wherever I can.
When you’re not on an expedition what does a “day at work” look like for you?
My days vary a lot. For the last three years, a third of my time has been spent researching and organising travel to different locations to collect DNA samples from coral reef animals. While I am travelling I get to meet and work with amazing people of very different cultures and see their beautiful home waters. When I get back to the University I work on the DNA samples we have collected in our genetics laboratory. This is when I (reluctantly) put on gloves and don a white coat to extract the DNA from the samples so that I can determine the DNA sequence of each individual (like a genetic fingerprint). The remainder of my time is spent analyzing the similarities and differences among the DNA sequences of many individuals. These similarities and differences tell me how closely related individuals are, so I can estimate how frequently individuals move between different locations. I then write up the results so that other scientists can use the information to help them plan their studies, and so that the information can be used to inform conservation of the animals.