Position: Emeritus Professor, Department of Zoology, University of Otago.
Field: Zoology and herpetology.
Dr Alison Cree was a professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of Otago. Her research focused on the reproductive and thermal biology of reptiles.
Alison is passionate about studying and feels very fortunate to have had learning opportunities all over New Zealand. She began her university studies at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. This is when she first became really interested in reptiles and amphibians. Alison realised there was very little information available about our native species and that this was likely to be a barrier to effective conservation. She went on to complete a BSc (Hons) with a research dissertation comparing breeding biology and metabolism of 2 introduced frogs.
Never give up studying, whatever your level. It’s an essential element in a rewarding life.
After a number of years cycling around Christchurch, the smog and pollution influenced Alison’s choice for her postgraduate studies. As part of a postgraduate diploma in natural resource management, she investigated economic mechanisms for controlling air pollution in Christchurch at the University of Canterbury and Lincoln College.
After the good fortune of being awarded a scholarship for doctoral studies, Alison returned to her first love of zoological research. She completed her doctorate at the University of Waikato on the ecophysiology of water balance in New Zealand’s native frogs. More good fortune followed – Alison was offered a postdoctoral fellowship for study at Victoria University of Wellington. She spent 3 years researching the reproductive biology of tuatara – about half of that time was spent on offshore islands. After this, she kept busy with short-term contracts (and sometimes no paying job at all) until she was offered a position as a lecturer at the University of Otago.
A day in the life of a professor
Alison’s role as a professor was incredibly varied, and each day brought something different! For example, a day may include catching skinks in the field, researching and preparing lectures, exchanging emails with researchers around the world and working with pregnant lizards in the lab.
Alison enjoyed most aspects of her job, in particularl working with live animals and looking for patterns in data. These are activities where there is the opportunity to see and learn new things about how animals live their lives. She also found it rewarding to work with students and other young researchers, sharing the excitement that comes from their own observations and discoveries. Alison supervised the PhD student in charge of the online citizen science project Skink Spotter NZ.
In 2014 Alison published the highly regarded book, Tuatara: biology and conservation of a venerable survivor. Alison was been a member of the Department of Zoology at the University of Otago since 1991 and in 2017 she became a full professor. As a member of a university’s Kaiāwhina Māori network, Professor Cree has run multiple workshops and training sessions to integrate the Māori Strategic Framework into departmental practice. In addition, Alison has also been a member of the Department of Conservation’s Tuatara Recovery Group for over 28 years and co-authored the first Tuatara Recovery Plan.
Alison retired in 2021, though she can still sometimes be found in the Zoology Department writing up a “backlog of datasets” and contributing to research on the thermal ecology and reproduction of alpine lizards. In the 2023 King’s Birthday Honours she was awarded a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) for services to herpetology, in particular, for her work with tuatara.
Alison also enjoys tramping, gardening and reading.
Alison has held many positions over 34 years of involement in the Society for Research on Amphibians and Reptiles in New Zealand (SRARNZ). Visit their website for more information.
See Alison's profile on the University of Otago's website and read Reflections from a career studying Aotearoa New Zealand’s reptiles for an indepth review of her career and life.
Read this Otago Daily Times article about her CNZM awared.
This article is based on information current in 2010 and 2023.