Tracking giant land snails through time 

Dr Elizabeth Daly

Dr Elizabeth Daly received her PhD through the Institute of Agriculture and Environment for research into evolution today during Massey University’s graduation celebrations in Manawatū.

Dr Daly says her passion started young. “I developed an interest in natural history and other sciences as a child and this was fostered by my parents,” she says. But, even as a child searching for fossils, Dr Daly could never have imagined where her interest in foraging for long lost creatures would take her.

Her research focused on the shells of fossil and living populations of a giant land snail, with the aim of investigating the shape and size of a single species through time and across its geographic range. She achieved this by using modern genetic methods combined with analysis of shell morphology and computer modelling to track evolution and understand the role of gene flow in maintaining shell shape.

“I found that different aspects of shell shape evolved independently in a single population and that both stasis and adaptation is possible in the face of gene flow. I am inspired and motivated by my love of science and the environment, my little family and my fantastic colleagues in the Phoenix Lab and the wider Ecology group.”

Dr Daly met her PhD supervisors during undergraduate study and applied for a summer student internship aimed at extending the genetic sampling of an endangered native snail Powelliphanta.

“Hours of repetitive lab work and failed Polymerase chain reactions didn't put me off, so they agreed to let me join their lab group,” Dr Daly says. 

When she’s not in the lab, Dr Daly likes to spend her time at the beach with her family, “swimming, boogie boarding, fossicking for treasures in the sand, and running down the dunes”.

Dr Daly is also active in social and environmental issues as one of the convenors for the Manawatū branch of the Association for Women in Science and is the current national secretary.

“When I get a bit uninspired I like to google scientists of the past who made such awesome discoveries and contributions to science, often under rather adverse conditions. I especially like googling female scientists of the past because they made these amazing contributions to science at a time when women’s contributions were often overlooked or the credit for them given to a man.”

Dr Daly stresses the importance of regular exercise for keeping balance. Juggling two children, one of whom was born during her PhD study, Dr Daly describes the process as challenging at times. After losing her father to cancer and supporting a husband undergoing cancer treatment (now fully recovered), Dr Daly would have been forgiven for letting studies slide, but she persevered and crossed the stage with hundreds of other students today.

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