Young VUW ecologists win international photography prizes

Press Release – Victoria University of Wellington
Two emerging researchers from Victoria University of Wellington have received awards for their compelling photographs in the British Ecological Society’s Centenary Photographic Competition.

Dr Benjamin Magana-Rodriguez, who recently completed his PhD in ecology and biodiversity at Victoria, has won the competition’s inaugural ‘Celebrating Ecology’ category, established this year to celebrate the Society’s centenary.

In 2011, Benjamin was named the overall winner of the competition.

His winning 2013 photograph of a Mexican cenote, or water-filled sinkhole, was taken in the Yucatan region which contains around 2,500 such sinkholes. 

Benjamin says he and his wife, pictured in the photo, have been fascinated by cenotes for a long time: “We heard that people in some local communities who live close to cenotes are keen to conserve these unique ecosystems while encouraging people to come in close contact with native flora and fauna.

“There are several sinkholes with open access to the public and ongoing projects to conserve them. The cenote captured in my photograph varies in depth from 5 metres up to 35 metres, and is home to many different species of birds and native plants and animals.” 

Anna Carter, a passionate ecologist who is completing her PhD through Victoria University and is an Associate Researcher at the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, received the runner up prize in the ‘Ecology in Action’ category for her photograph of a tuatara.

The picture was taken on Takapourewa (Stephens Island) in the Marlborough Sounds, as she was tracking female tuatara to and from their nests using cotton thread. Anna’s PhD research focuses on how tuatara behaviour and the environment interact to influence the gender determination of the reptiles, which is temperature-dependent.

She says: “It’s a relatively inexpensive, low-tech method of collecting a lot of really interesting data. My research combines ‘traditional’ methods in behavioural ecology with physiological and climate modelling.”

The British Ecological Society is the oldest ecological society in the world, established in 1913. The winning images from the Centenary Photographic Competition were exhibited in London last week at INTECOL 2013, the world’s largest ecological meeting.

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