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Ceridwen Fraser, of the Australian National University, is preparing to move the Fraser Lab to the University of Otago in March, after receiving a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship in 2018.
Dr Fraser has received international attention for work including studies on New Zealand's coastline after the Kaikoura earthquake.
One of the first large projects her lab group carried out included testing the idea plants and animals in the Antarctic survived ice ages by sheltering around volcanoes and in warm caves under the ice created by volcanic steam.
Her work had also involved testing ideas about long-distance dispersal of species, for instance whether "terrestrial'' ticks that live on penguins can travel with their hosts.
During past climate change periods, plants and animals had begun to move towards the poles as the climate warmed.
"Right now, with human-accelerated global warming, many species are trying to move towards the poles,'' Dr Fraser said.
"For southern hemisphere species, this is really tricky - how can they cross the enormous Southern Ocean?
"Which can, and which can't?
"Do you need to be able to swim or fly to cross an ocean?''
Over the years, the lab had focused increasingly on Antarctic ecosystems - particularly around the idea of whether the Antarctic has been biologically isolated for millions of years - but she was also fascinated by the evolution of New Zealand's plants and animals.
"It has been a little challenging to be a marine scientist at an inland university.
"I can't wait to be surrounded, every day, by the ecosystems that I get most excited about,'' she said of her move to Otago.
Dr Fraser said she had wanted to be a marine biologist from the age of 11, when she had been fascinated by a marine fish tank her science teacher used to keep in the classroom.
"I spent all my time staring at the amazing creatures in the `other world' of the tank,'' she said.
"It is everything I dreamed it would be, and more.''
The move was taking place at a time when most of her research students and postdoctoral researchers had either just finished, or not started.
One of her PhD students would be travelling with her, and she was keen to find new research students and collaborators at Otago, she said.