What’s it like to be a MSc student in systematic botany? Just ask Jessie…

My name is Jessie Prebble and I am the current (2009) recipient of the Te Papa MSc Scholarship in Molecular Systematics. I’m studying at Victoria University, looking at the evolution of the plant genus Wahlenbergia in New Zealand and Australia. I’m using various molecular techniques to try to determine how reliable the current taxonomy of the New Zealand species is, and whether I can infer how many times the genus invaded New Zealand, where from, and when.

Jessie and Wahlenbergia albomarginata subsp. olvina on the ultramafic Dun Mountains near Nelson, New Zealand.

Me and Wahlenbergia albomarginata subsp. olvina on the ultramafic Dun Mountains near Nelson, New Zealand. Photo © Jessie Prebble.

Here I am finding Wahlenbergia gloriosa in an alpine herbfield on Mt Kosciuszko, New South Wales, Australia. Photo © Jessie Prebble.

Here I am finding Wahlenbergia gloriosa in an alpine herbfield on Mt Kosciuszko, New South Wales, Australia. Photo © Jessie Prebble.

I love my research. I spent last summer exploring the country collecting specimens in beautiful locations from the Garvie Mountains in Southland to Muriwai Beach north of Auckland. I even got to head over to New South Wales to hunt down some of the Australian species.  I then spent a few weeks mounting and processing all of my collections, and now they’re stored in the Te Papa Herbarium.

This is the common South Island alpine plant Wahlenbergia albomarginata subsp. albomarginata, which grows profusely on the slopes of Mt Robert, Nelson Lakes area, New Zealand.

This is the common South Island alpine plant Wahlenbergia albomarginata subsp. albomarginata, which grows profusely on the slopes of Mt Robert, Nelson Lakes area, New Zealand. Photo © Jessie Prebble.

Wahlenbergia ceracea growing in an alpine bog on the slopes of Mt Kosciuszko, New South Wales, Australia.

Wahlenbergia ceracea growing in an alpine bog on the slopes of Mt Kosciuszko, New South Wales, Australia. Photo © Jessie Prebble.

Currently I’m dividing my time between the lab, where I extract and sequence short fragments of my specimens’ DNA, and the computer lab, where I puzzle my head over numerous types of data files. I have selected three regions to sequence, two from the chloroplast (trnL-F and trnK-psbA) and one nuclear ribosomal region (ITS). I explore my sequence data by forming alignments of the sequences, then creating phylogenetic trees to tease out the relationships between the species.

Results are starting to trickle in, and so far I can tell that all of the New Zealand species are very closely related, which most likely points to recent and rapid evolution here.  Further results to follow…

The beautiful coastal plant Wahlenbergia congesta subps. haastii growing on sand dunes on the South Island’s west coast, by the mouth of Ship Ck. Photo © Jessie Prebble.

The beautiful coastal plant Wahlenbergia congesta subps. haastii growing on sand dunes on the South Island’s west coast, by the mouth of Ship Ck. Photo © Jessie Prebble.

2 Responses

  1. David Tng

    Cheers for you Jessie!! While I have little experience in molecular taxonomy, the changes it is making to plant taxonomy excites me to no end. Look forward to reading of your results in your Wahlenbergia studies. I am still learning how to id some of the commoner ones where I live.

    Reply
  2. Andrea

    Go Jessie!

    Reply

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