Speaker: Christina Vieglais

THE BREN SCHOOL OF Environmental Science & Management
at the University of California, Santa Barbara


Christina Vieglais
Bren Visiting Lecturer

MAF Biosecurity New Zealand [on leave]

"The Dirty Side of Global Travel:

How an obscure benthic diatom jumped hemispheres

and is changing New Zealand freshwaters"

Tuesday, Oct. 30
12:30 - 1:30 p.m.
Bren Hall 1424

Part of the 2007-2008 Seminar Series

in Environmental Science & Management


A previously rare diatom Didymosphenia geminata (didymo) was discovered in New Zealand in 2004 forming unusually large amounts of unsightly biomass, which threatened large areas of the country’s most pristine oligotrophic rivers. How can a single-celled organism generate such a vast amount of biomass in low-nutrient systems? Scientific and operational outcomes of a three-year government program to uncover the ecological, toxicological and molecular mysteries of didymo will be discussed. The NZ detection was the first validated record of the alga in the Southern Hemisphere, and triggered a global wave of awareness, new detections and international research into the diatom. Didymo has a wide potential global distribution which is likely to eventuate unless international efforts are made to prevent the transfer of damp aquatic gear between ecoregions. Global regulatory frameworks for alien species will be discussed.



Christina Vieglais will be lecturing at the Bren School in 2007-08 on ecological risk assessment and environmental biotechnology while her husband David undertakes a sabbatical at UCSB NCEAS.  Dr. Vieglais is on leave from MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (a division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry), the NZ government agency managing the risks of new pests and diseases to NZ’s environment, economy and human health.

Vieglais received her BS in Biochemistry from Virginia Tech, and MS and PhD degrees in Plant Biology from the University of New Hampshire, specializing in environmental physiology and genetics. For her PhD, she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to New Zealand in Plant Genetics.  During her career, Vieglais has bred plants for the USDA in Beltsville, Md; helped start an environmental biotechnology company in New Orleans to develop genetically superior plants to clean up wastewater and combat wetland loss; investigated the effects of elevated CO2 on native ecosystems at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center; carried out genetic research to counter bio-weapons for Midwest Research Institute in Kansas City; and worked with her husband distributing his biodiversity informatics software across the globe, before returning to New Zealand in 2003. As part of her role for MAF Biosecurity New Zealand, Vieglais led a three-year program of more than 20 scientific studies involving 50 scientists from ten organizations for the NZ government’s incursion response to the invasive alga Didymosphenia geminata. Vieglais’s major interest is in the application of scientific data to facilitate risk assessments for biodiversity, biosafety and biosecurity decision-making. She also advocates a professional project management approach to conducting scientific investigations.



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