Professor Wendy Alison Nelson

Research | Current

Marine Macroalgae – systematics, phylogeny, distribution

I am a member of the Joint Graduate School in Coastal and Marine Science, employed by both NIWA and the University of Auckland. At NIWA I am a Programme Leader in the Coasts & Oceans National Centre in Marine Biological Resources. I also lead the marine biodiversity and biosystematics research group.

My research in marine phycology includes work on systematics, biogeography, ecology and life histories, with a primary focus on discovery and documentation of the NZ flora. I have a close research partnership with Judy Sutherland (University of Auckland) who brings molecular phylogenetic skills to our joint programmes.

We have a number of research projects underway on diverse groups of seaweeds. Some examples of recent and current research projects include:

Bangiales – Karengo, nori, laver are some of the names applied to these economically and culturally valuable red algae. Our discoveries of diversity within the NZ members of the order Bangiales have led to a radical re-shaping of understanding of the relationships within this globally distributed order. Much research is still required on this intriguing group with many NZ species remaining to be described.

Coralline algae – in the past 8 years research on calcified red algae have led to the development molecular identification tools, the first ecological study of rhodolith beds in NZ (internationally recognised biodiversity ‘hotspots’), and publication of two identification guides to coralline algae of northern and central NZ. There are many reasons to investigate these algae – for example, coralline algae are known to play key roles in the metamorphosis of invertebrates (including paua, corals); as calcified organisms they are potentially vulnerable to the impacts of ocean acidification.

Prasiolales – these small green algae are frequently found associated with guano deposits (marine birds and marine mammals). Our recent research has revealed greater diversity in NZ than previously understood – and we have work currently underway with colleagues in Ireland and Japan to understand more about the distribution and phylogeny of members of this order. The life histories and ecology of these algae remain poorly understood.

Introduced algae – during field work on various projects we encounter macroalgae that are not native species and that have apparently been introduced to NZ waters via various vectors. Documentation of the non-native flora is on-going and currently includes collaborations with colleagues in Korea.

Ulvaceae – these green algae are frequently associated with nuisance blooms and transported on marine vessels. We carried out a research project to document members of this group in NZ and in the process discovered the occurrence of the genus Umbraulva in NZ as well as rediscovered the genus Gemina. More research is needed to clarify the taxonomy and relationships of NZ species of Ulva as well as other members of this group.

Gigartinaceae – these red algae include economically important carrageenophytes. In NZ we have a very high diversity within the family including many endemic species, a number of which remain undescribed. Research is underway on key species, with recent description of a NZ endemic genus that is sister to this family (Psilophycus).

Gracilariales – collaborative work with Dr Claude Payri (IRD, Noumea) is underway on the genus Melanthalia. NZ members of this order are also a key focus for current eflora research.

Key Colleagues:

Judy Sutherland – University of Auckland

Roberta D’Archino & Kate Neill – NIWA

Jenn Dalen – Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa



Areas of expertise

Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Nelson, W., Neill, K., D'Archino R, Anderson, T., Beaumount, J., & Dalen, J. (2015). Beyond diving depths: Deepwater macroalgae in the New Zealand region. Marine Biodiversity, 45 (4), 797-818. 10.1007/s12526-014-0293-5
  • Yang, E. C., Kim, K. M., Kim, S. Y., Lee, J., Boo, G. H., Lee, J.-H., ... Fredericq, S. (2015). Highly conserved mitochondrial genomes among multicellular red algae of the Florideophyceae. Genome biology and evolution, 7 (8), 2394-2406. 10.1093/gbe/evv147
  • Lin, S.-M., Rodríguez-Prieto C, Huisman, J. M., Guiry, M. D., Payri, C., Nelson, W. A., & Liu, S.-L. (2015). A phylogenetic re-appraisal of the family Liagoraceae sensu lato (Nemaliales, Rhodophyta) based on sequence analyses of two plastid genes and postfertilization development. Journal of phycology, 51 (3), 546-559. 10.1111/jpy.12301
  • Nelson, W. A., Sutherland, J. E., Farr, T. J., Hart, D. R., Neill, K. F., Kim, H. J., & Yoon, H. S. (2015). Multi-gene phylogenetic analyses of New Zealand coralline algae: Corallinapetra Novaezelandiae gen. et sp. nov. and recognition of the Hapalidiales ord. nov. Journal of Phycology, 51 (3), 454-468. 10.1111/jpy.12288
  • Kim, K. M., Yang, E. C., Kim, J. H., Nelson, W. A., & Yoon, H. S. (2015). Complete mitochondrial genome of a rhodolith, Sporolithon durum (Sporolithales, Rhodophyta). Mitochondrial DNA, 26 (1), 155-156. 10.3109/19401736.2013.819500
  • Neill, K. F., Nelson, W. A., D'Archino R, Leduc, D., & Farr, T. J. (2015). Northern New Zealand rhodoliths: assessing faunal and floral diversity in physically contrasting beds. Marine Biodiversity: international journal of marine science, 45 (1), 63-75. 10.1007/s12526-014-0229-0
  • Nelson, W. A., & D'Archino R (2014). Three new macroalgae from the Three Kings Islands New Zealand including the first southern Pacific Ocean record of the Furcellariaceae (Rhodophyta). Phycologia, 53 (6), 602-613. Related URL.
  • Guillemin, M., Valero, M., Faugeron, S., Nelson, W., & Destombe, C. (2014). Tracing the trans-Pacific evolutionary history of a domesticated seaweed (Gracilaria chilensis) with archaeological and genetic data. PLoS One, 9 (12)10.1371/journal.pone.0114039


Contact details

Alternative contact

Phone: 64 4 386060064 4 3860600
NIWA,Private Bag 14-901, Wellington 6241

Primary office location

New Zealand

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