Dr Dinusha Jayathilake

What is the environmental DNA composition of Hawke’s Bay’s streams and rivers? What plant and fish species are living in each waterway and how endangered or rare are they? And how in need of urgent conservation? 

These are questions EIT Environmental Management lecturer, Dr Dinusha Jayathilake hopes to answer on the back of her world-leading research into different plant distributions (biomes) in the world’s shallow sea areas.

Dinusha, who joined EIT’s School of Primary Industries last year, completed her PhD in Marine Science at the University of Auckland and her research was recently cited in a report to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 

“Before I started my PhD studies there had been much work done on forests and grasslands, but very little in the marine domain, in the shallow sea submerged forests and meadows,” Dinusha says. “My PhD focused on that research and technical gap.”

Using novel computer modelling and mapping technology, Dinusha created two ground-breaking global maps showing the possible distribution of seagrass and kelp biomes. Her research also identified places that have multiple biomes such as seagrass, kelp, mangrove and reef coral building within a 1km² area. “This is important for conservation of the sensitive marine environment,” she says. “These plant communities provide feeding, nesting and nursery habitats for many marine animal species. “

Dinusha grew up in Kandy, the central area of Sri Lanka and after doing her MA in Geoinformatics at the University of Peradeniya, she came to New Zealand five years ago with her husband. They had their first child while she completed her PhD. She is now teaching environmental management at EIT, which includes subjects such as freshwater ecology and geographic information systems (GIS). She is also very keen to translate her research skills, and working with students, apply for funding to the NZ Environmental Protection Agency to do environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis of Hawke’s Bay’s waterways.

“eDNA is a quick-fire method of analysis and will give us a big picture of what is happening in our waterways within about two years,” she says. “What we find will then be a foundation for freshwater research in Hawke’s Bay and important for future conservation.”

At the moment Dinusha is scoping the possible project and has begun talking with local Iwi, farmers and other schools at EIT.

“We need to know some of the hot spots where there may be lots of species,” she says.  “We know about inanga, tuna, fresh water crayfish – but what else is there? 

Dinusha’s research was mentioned in The Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, the Working Group II contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report.

The report gives a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of Climate Change, looking at ecosystems, biodiversity, and human communities at global and regional levels. Chapter Three focuses on Ocean and coastal ecosystems and their services and cited Dinusha‘s ‘A modelled map of the global distribution of seagrass biome’ and ‘The global distribution of kelp biome’ research papers.

A modelled map of the global distribution of the seagrass biome:

A modelled map of the global distribution of the kelp biome:


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1 Comment

  1. Both NCC and HBRC have been doing this eDNA testing in local rural and urban waterways. Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has offered a kit to local community groups as well. Several have taken up the offer, and will receive their kits soon. Let’s connect with each other so we’re not all doubling up on research areas.

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