Professor Wendy Alison Nelson

BSc Auckland, BSc Hons Victoria University of Wellington, PhD University of British Columbia

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 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 12 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 – including the discovery of a new species in the NZ subantarctic that is the first representative of its genus in the southern hemisphere. The life histories and ecology of the NZ Prasiolales 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. More research is needed to understand the impact of non-native species on coastal communities.

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. Several new genera are being investigated.

Gracilariales – collaborative work is underway with Dr Marie Laure Guillemin (Instituto de Ciencias Ambientales y Evolutivas, UACH) and colleagues on Gracilaria in NZ and Chile.

Key Colleagues:

Roberta D’Archino, Kate Neill & Judy Sutherland – NIWA

Chris Hepburn – Marine Science, University of Otago

Jenn Dalen – Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa


Teaching | Current

I contribute to teaching in the following courses:

  • BIOSCI 333 Marine Ecology
  • BIOSCI 724 Marine Ecology 



Hutton Medal, RSNZ

Areas of expertise

Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour

Committees/Professional groups/Services

President International Phycological Society

Member: National Systematics & Taxonomic Collections Working Group

Member: IPBES Task Force - Capacity Building


Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Nelson, W. A., Sutherland, J. E., Ringham, S., & Murupaenga, H. (2019). Dictyota korowai sp. nov. (Dictyotales, Phaeophyceae) from Manawatawhi/Three Kings Islands, northern New Zealand, previously confused with Dictyota intermedia. PHYCOLOGIA, 58 (4), 433-442. 10.1080/00318884.2019.1625256
  • Nelson, W., Duffy, C., Trnski, T., & Stewart, R. (2018). Mesophotic Ecklonia radiata (Laminariales) at Rangitāhua, Kermadec Islands, New Zealand. Phycologia, 57 (5), 534-538. 10.2216/18-9.1
  • Nelson, W. A., Bilewitch, J. P., & Sutherland, J. E. (2018). Distribution of the genus Zonaria (Dictyotales: Phaeophyceae) in New Zealand, and description of Zonaria cryptica sp. nov from Stewart Island. New Zealand Journal of Botany, 1-12. 10.1080/0028825X.2018.1478310
  • Twist, B. A., Sutherland, J. E., & Nelson, W. A. (2018). Epiphytic Jania in New Zealand: Jania sphaeroramosa sp nov (Corallinales, Rhodophyta). PHYTOTAXA, 357 (1), 30-40. 10.11646/phytotaxa.357.1.3
  • Desmond, M. J., Suárez-Jiménez R, Nelson, W. A., & Hepburn, C. D. (2018). Epifaunal community structure within southern New Zealand kelp forests. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 596, 71-81. 10.3354/meps12587
  • Nelson, W. A., & Sutherland, J. E. (2018). Prasionema heeschiae sp. nov. (Prasiolales, Chlorophyta) from Campbell Island, New Zealand: first record of Prasionema in the southern hemisphere. European Journal of Phycology, 53 (2), 198-207. 10.1080/09670262.2018.1423577
  • Law, C. S., Bell, J. J., Bostock, H. C., Cornwall, C. E., Cummings, V. J., Currie, K., ... Hurd, C. L. (2018). Ocean acidification in New Zealand waters: trends and impacts. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 52 (2), 155-195. 10.1080/00288330.2017.1374983
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Darren Parsons, Mary Sewell
  • Sondak, C. F. A., Ang, P. O., Beardall, J., Bellgrove, A., Boo, S. M., Gerung, G. S., ... Kawai, H. (2017). Carbon dioxide mitigation potential of seaweed aquaculture beds (SABs). Journal of Applied Phycology, 29 (5), 2363-2373. 10.1007/s10811-016-1022-1


Contact details

Alternative contact

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

Primary office location

Level 3, Room 301
New Zealand

Web links