How long does taxonomy take? Botanist Jessie Prebble can tell you

How long does taxonomy take? Botanist Jessie Prebble can tell you

Taxonomic research involves a number of aspects, including field trips, lab work, studying and comparing live plants (in the field or glasshouse) or pressed specimens, and reading previous scientific papers. Not to mention analysing and interpreting the data, incorporating previously published research, and writing up the results for publication. Sometimes, such research forms the basis of a post-graduate thesis (Master’s or PhD).  Curator Botany Heidi Meudt talks about one student’s journey.

Jessie Prebble started her PhD research in 2012 when she went on one of her first forget-me-not field trips to Northland. She was co-supervised by Jen Tate and Vaughan Symonds (Massey University), and me.

Two women holding a large card are looking at the camera.
Jessie Prebble, former Te Papa/Massey PhD student in Botany, and Te Papa Curator Botany, Heidi Meudt (2016), holding a forget-me-not herbarium specimen. Te Papa

During the course of her PhD (2012–2016), she was based here at Te Papa for about two years, where she was able to work very closely with the collections and Botany staff in our herbarium.

A woman peers out from behind a large wooden door with red signs on it. There are blue cupboards in the background.
Jessie Prebble, former Massey University/Te Papa PhD botany student in Te Papa’s Herbarium (2016). Te Papa

She finished her thesis in 2016 and is now a Botanist at Manaaki-Whenua – Landcare Research.

Taxonomy takes time

You might think the research ends when a student submits and defends their thesis, but the process does not stop there. The next step for scientific research is publication in a credible, peer-reviewed scientific journal.

The peer-review process usually means further revisions to the text, before it is finally accepted and published. For taxonomic research, in particular, this step is crucial as it provides “effective publication” for any new scientific names as well as a permanent record of the research.

Jessie published the final chapter of her PhD thesis in May 2022. It is the culmination of a decade of her comprehensive research on this group of tiny forget-me-nots, and includes the publication of her 2016 PhD thesis along with four peer-reviewed, scientific papers based on that thesis from 2015, 2018, 2019 and 2022. It is also a fantastic example of how Te Papa supports student research.

Congratulations, Jessie, on achieving this important milestone!

A woman in a red jacket ad blue trousers crouches in some green bush, smiling at the camera.
Jessie Prebble collecting Myosotis spatulata in November 2011. CC BY 4.0. Te Papa (SP090548)

References cited

Prebble JM, Symonds VV, Tate JA, Meudt HM. 2022. Taxonomic revision of the southern hemisphere pygmy forget-me-not group (Myosotis; Boraginaceae) based on morphological, population genetic and climate-edaphic niche modelling data. Australian Systematic Botany 35(1):63-94.

Prebble JM, Meudt HM, Tate JA, Symonds VV. 2019. Comparing and co-analysing microsatellite and morphological data for species delimitation in the New Zealand native Myosotis pygmaea species group (Boraginaceae). Taxon 68(4):731-750.

Prebble JM, Meudt HM, Tate JA, Symonds VV. 2018. Bolstering species delimitation in difficult species complexes by analysing herbarium and common garden morphological data: a case study using the New Zealand native Myosotis pygmaea species group (Boraginaceae). Systematic Botany 43(1):266-289.

Prebble, JM. 2016. Species delimitation and the population genetics of rare plants: a case study using the New Zealand native pygmy forget-me-not group (Myosotis; Boraginaceae): a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Biology at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand. PhD diss., Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.

Prebble JM, Tate JA, Meudt HM, Symonds VV. 2015. Microsatellite markers for the New Zealand endemic Myosotis pygmaea species group (Boraginaceae) amplify across species. Applications in Plant Sciences 3(6):1500027.

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