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Sze-Wing Yiu, Post-Doctoral Researcher – Behaviour Ecologist

Sze-Wing Yiu

Sze-Wing Yiu

My role as a postdoctoral researcher is to plan and execute research projects, in collaboration with scientists from Manaaki Whenua and international institutions.

I am currently working on the project “Exploiting Fear for Integrated Pest Management”, testing the effectiveness of predator auditory cues in deterring cats from native breeding birds. This will provide a non-lethal management option for protecting threatened species and enable management to occur near suburban areas.

What was it that led you into this field?

Growing up in the urban jungle of Hong Kong, I was always fascinated by the natural wonders shown on National Geographic. I was particularly obsessed with the Big Cat Diary and have developed a love for the African savannah and the big cats. My desire to see the animals in real life has led me to the path of studying ecology and later developed into a passion for science and conservation.

What did you study at university?

BSc (Ecology and Biodiversity) – The University of Hong Kong (2018-2011)
PhD (Lion behavioural ecology) – The University of Hong Kong (2012-2017). I was based in South Africa for the lion research.
MSc (Biosecurity and Conservation) – The University of Auckland (2021-2022).

Who inspires you?

Rather than a person, I would say it’s nature that inspires me. The interconnectedness of all living and non-living things in an ecosystem is captivating. I was inspired by the scientific story “How Wolves Change Rivers”: the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, U.S., has resulted in a series of changes in prey behaviour and vegetation regeneration, and eventually, altered river flow. The plasticity and fluidity of ecosystems has inspired my research to focus on species dynamics and interactions.

What excites and keeps you inspired about and in the research you do?

Interestingly, it inspires me both when experimental results come out as expected and when they go off the tangent. The former excites me because it proves the proposed theories. Yet, when you study animals, the latter happens frequently because your study objects have feet and their own minds. This challenges my thinking and inspires me to figure out the reasons behind unexpected results. In ecology, each ecosystem is so unique that the answer to a question is often “it depends”, and it is the biggest motivation for me to continue doing research.

What would be the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

It was very challenging when I had to enrol as a student again in New Zealand after having completed my PhD and postdoc in Hong Kong and South Africa. I relocated to New Zealand at the beginning of COVID, which was a difficult time for networking and job searching.

I therefore decided to study for an MSc degree in biosecurity and conservation to upskill myself in local ecological skills and knowledge. Completing the MSc research was uneasy because of unexpected rat behaviour and COVID travel restrictions. The challenge is well worth because it has brought me to my current job at Manaaki Whenua!

What would you like it said about you at your retirement function?

A passionate and inspirational scientist, a kind and easy-to-work-with colleague, and an encouraging and supportive mentor.