In 1968, a few enthusiastic freshwater scientists got together and founded the New Zealand Limnological Society, nowadays known as the New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society. What started off as a small group 50 years ago, has grown to a 430 members strong society, leading freshwater science in New Zealand as well as worldwide. 

At this year’s NZFSS conference we will celebrate the Society’s past, present and future. We start with the past – portraying previous presidents and other interesting snippets from newsletters, press-releases, etc.

Delve into the past of New Zealand’s Freshwater Science Society, some 50 years back where you could become a member of the NZ Limnological Society for 50 cents per annum…

Snippets of the first Newsletter of the newly formed “NZ Limnological Society” in 1968


Vida Mary Stout
First President 1968-1973 and founder

Vida was a member of a highly distinguished family. Her father was a surgeon and vice chancellor of Victoria University of Wellington and her grandfather was the 13th premier of New Zealand and later chief justice. Vida was dux at Woodford House before going to Victoria University where she did her BSc and MSc in Zoology. Her thesis was on the two large red water mites found in ponds. She wrote two long papers on mites from her thesis and another on the rhabdocoel flatworm Mesostoma – all were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand. She then went to Bedford College, University of London where she did her PhD on Daphnia. This was followed by post-doctoral work in Sweden before returning to New Zealand. Vida was appointed to the Zoology Department at the University of Canterbury in 1958, where she remained until her retirement in 1996
In 1968 she and Ann Chapman founded the New Zealand Limnological Society (now the NZ Freshwater Sciences Society) as a forum where freshwater workers could meet at an annual conference and contribute to a newsletter. Vida was the first president of the Society and Ann was the first newsletter editor. After retiring in 1996, she continued to go to her office almost every day until the university forbid her access, citing fears for her safety. Vida died in 2012 aged 82.

Below Left: Vida instructing students at a tarn in Arthur’s Pass about 1995.
Below Right: Exhausted members of the Lake Blackwater expedition, Cass (1979). From left, John Stark, Richard Rowe, Lynley Pearce, John Hayes, Brian Timms, Vida, Malcolm Forster, Mike Winterbourn.

Margaret Ann Chapman
President 1973-1975  

Ann was born in Dunedin and began her university training at Otago, completing her MSc in 1959. She worked in Australia for the Sydney Water Board before heading to Scotland in 1962 to complete her PhD (1965) from the University of Glasgow. Ann was appointed Senior Lecturer in Biological Sciences at the University of Waikato in 1970 and promoted to Reader in 1975.
Ann was always a tremendous amount of fun on the many field trips she was part of. Her enthusiastic knowledge of New Zealand history, natural history and literature was extensive, and numerous students and colleagues benefitted from her experience. An added bonus on her field trips was the requisite visits to some of New Zealand’s finest wineries and breweries.
Ann retired in 1996, although she remained very active maintaining an office and lab space at the University of Waikato. She continued to supervise graduate students as well as undertake her own research on the taxonomy of amphipod crustaceans. She was always receptive to new ideas and embraced emerging genetic techniques as a useful tool for providing insights into taxonomic anomalies. Ann’s final years were plagued with ill health, but she converted her nursing home room into an office and continued to write, including working on a draft of an updated version of the freshwater Crustacea guide. She died in 2009 aged 72.

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Don Jellyman LimSoc Reflections
Member 1970 to present

“I joined the old Limnological Society in 1970 when a Ph D student at Victoria University’s marine laboratory (Island Bay, Wellington). In those days, the annual conference was a rather informal affair, and papers were presented over 2 days, with an optional field trip on the third day. There were no simultaneous sessions, but while there were themes (aquatic plants, freshwater fish etc), most people attended all sessions. My first presentation was a rather ambitious one, giving a broad overview of the species of freshwater fish in New Zealand, and their associated habitat use and feeding niche; in those days we all used hand-drawn figures on acetate sheets (for use with an overhead projector), and whether because of nerves or some other misadventure, my entire presentation ended up on the floor as I stepped up to the lectern. A less than auspicious start! 

There was a committed group of scientists that seemed to attend each conference, and I recall Vida Stout (Canterbury University) would give a presentation titled “Preliminary observations on the limnology of Lake “X”, and the lake name would change each year. In a similar vein, Don Forsyth (DSIR, Taupo) would give a talk on the chironomid fauna of one of the numerous Rotorua lakes, and again it seemed to me that the only change was the name of the lake. But then, I was a fishy person.

The 1982 conference at Taupo included a bus trip around part of the Rotorua district, and I vividly recall coming across an agricultural contractor who was flushing out his tanks into a local river – suddenly he was surrounded by a cluster of earnest and concerned biologists who variously interrogated him and took numerous photos of the crime scene. Hopefully, he learned from the experience. On an entirely different note, I remember a conference in Christchurch shortly after the 2011 earthquake, where the then president, Jon Harding, gave some sage advice – in the event of an earthquake, he recommended that visitors watch a Christchurch person – if they stayed seated then it was only a mild earthquake, but if they ran for the door then you’d better get out very quickly!

I want to briefly acknowledge the huge contribution that my mentor and friend Bob McDowall (1939 – 2011), made to freshwater science, and New Zealand freshwater fisheries in particular. Bob was a prodigious author, having written over 400 scientific papers and 11 books, and a regular attender at the annual conference. While he could dismantle many speakers with penetrating questions, he had a soft spot for students, and would often take time out to encourage them. Thanks Bob. Thanks also to the foresight of people like Max Burnet, Vida Stout, Ann Chapman, Geoff Fish and others, who established the old Limnological Society 50 years ago. Fifty-five years ago, my geography teacher at high school predicted the day would come in New Zealand when there would be fierce debates over water quality and quantity – we thought he was talking bollocks but of course he was right. With the current pressure on freshwater resources, the role of good science and the advocacy of the Freshwater Sciences Society, are of greater importance than ever."


Bob McDowall
1939 - 2011

The well-known fisheries scientist, Bob McDowall died earlier this year after a short illness. Bob was the father of freshwater fish research and fisheries in New Zealand, and was a life member of the New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society. Although he had retired from the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA), he continued to work most days at NIWA’s Christchurch laboratory until shortly before his death in February. 
Bob’s academic career started at Victoria University of Wellington (1958-62) and he studied for a PhD at Harvard University, USA (1965-68). His thesis on the taxonomy of whitebait and related genera was regarded as one of the best submitted at that time. Upon return to New Zealand he commenced work on whitebait migrations. He also worked on describing all New Zealand’s freshwater fish and published his first book in 1978. This was the forerunner of another 13 books he would complete over the next 33 years.
He moved from Wellington to Christchurch in 1979 to run the expanding laboratory at Kyle Street (the present NIWA campus) and eventually had control of 60 freshwater science staff throughout NZ. These were his ‘bureaucratic wilderness’ years as he had little time for research. A turning point for Bob was in 1985 when he was invited to be a keynote speaker at the first international conference on diadromy, the movements of fish between fresh and saltwater environments (Boston, March 1986). Another book followed but so did a period of productive research on the biogeography and dispersal of fish which continued until the present. In the limited New Zealand freshwater fish fauna, Bob realised he had the opportunity to explore biogeographical patterns and processes in a way that would have been more difficult with a larger fauna. He rapidly asserted himself as a staunch defender of oceanic dispersal as the dominant process for the distribution and colonisation of Southern Hemisphere freshwater fishes. 
Bob was an enormously productive scientist, publishing over 240 papers, 14 books and roughly 300 popular articles and reports. He worked at institutes in Australia, South Africa, South America, USA and the Falkland Islands, and received many accolades and awards throughout his distinguished career, including being made a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and being awarded a James Cook Fellowship. He gained election to the New Zealand Conservation Authority for two years until ill-health forced his retirement last year. He served as co-editor on a number of scientific journals and refereed many papers, including 50 in the last year alone. 
Bob had a passion for discovering and disseminating knowledge and popularising science. For him, it was a privilege exploring biology and understanding relationships. He recognised that he was the right person in the right place at the right time. While he leaves a huge gap in fisheries science, his written legacy is enormous; he also influenced many younger scientists who will be grateful they knew this remarkable man. His widow, Ainslie, has provided an endowment fund that will bear Bob’s name, and will assist young freshwater scientists in furthering their careers.

Bob McDowall Tribute

Above: Bob McDowall on Chatham Island
​Below: Bob at work

Above: Max Burnett (right), Don Jellyman (left) and an unnamed student in 1967 in a boat on the Rangitata South with an electric fishing machine made by Max.

New Zealand Limnological Society Conference – Taupo, 1982

Back row: J. Gibb, M. Timperley, B. Coffey, S. Wood, A. Viner, C. Mitchell, R. Wells, E. White, R. McColl, T. Stephens, W. Vant, D. Jellyman, M. Gibbs, R. Edwards, J. Boubee

Third row: C. Richmond, M. Downes, M. James, P. Gillespie, V. Wilkinson, J. Stark, P. Claman, V. Stout, B. Biggs, P. Henriques, P. Mylechreest, J. Quinn, J. Davies, E. Cudby, W. Donovan, I. Vidal

Second row: L. Whiteside, Y. Stark, S. Davis, A. Chapman, M. Fransen, S. Porter, C. Burns, R. Vigor-Brown, L. Harper, A-M. Schwarz, M. Butler, F. Eccles, M. Harper, K. Law, J. Edwards, L. Ryan

Front row: S. Pickmere, P. Lawless, G. Payne, P. Todd, R. McLay, P. Tortell, D. Forsyth