Professor Brendan Hicks

Professor (Biological Sciences)

Qualifications: MSc Auckland, PhD Oregon State

Personal Website:

Research Interests

Quantitative ecology of freshwater fish; otolith microchemistry and fish life histories; lake ecosystem function; stable isotopes in aquatic food webs.

Forest management and fish communities

My doctoral research in the Oregon Coast range was in the fish ecology of forest streams (Book chapters: Hicks et al. 1991, 311 citations; Refereed journal articles: Hicks et al. 1991, 157 citations; Hicks and Hall 2003, 33 citations) and I have capitalised on this experience, resulting in a recent collaboration with Scion and Ph.D. graduation (Brenda Baillie). This research has looked at the role of geomorphology in structuring stream fish populations, especially the contribution of large woody debris. My comprehensive knowledge on this topic has resulted in three invited book chapters (Hicks et al. 1991, Hicks 2002, Hicks et al. 2004). This work has contributed to forest management rules guiding best practice and protection of streams in managed forests.

Ecology of freshwater fish

Stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen provide signatures through aquatics food webs that determine the trophic base and nutrient flows in stream and lake ecosystems (Journal article: Rounick and Hicks 1985, 61 citations, Book chapter: Hicks et al. 2010). I have produced a number of studies that investigate food web relations streams and lakes, defining the energy sources in pastoral and forested Waikato streams (Journal article: Hicks 1997, 76 citations). My research in Alaska showed the importance of marine-derived nitrogen from spawning coho salmon to their rearing juveniles (Journal article: Hicks et al. 2005, 70 citations), and I stable isotope knowledge contributed to weta ecology (Journal article: Wehi and Hicks 2010). I have used this experience to guide a number of students in the use of stable isotopes (PhD: Blair, Parkyn, Pingram, West; MSc: Blair, Hailes, Klee, McBride, Osborne, Riordan, Watene), and I hold the Directorship of the Waikato Stable Isotope Unit, which is a successful business unit within the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE). The operation of this unit permits low-cost analyses of stable isotopes throughout the Faculty and produces a consistent stream of external commercial income.

A metabolic theory of ecology is a cornerstone of understanding the function of fish and aquatic ecosystems. My research in fish ecology has led to the development of temperature-corrected metabolic model for nutrient excretion by carp (Journal article: Morgan and Hicks 2013). I initiated this work and guided postdoctoral researcher Morgan.

Quantitative estimation of fish abundance

I began my research in the field of estimation of fish abundance by developing the systematic and quantitative use of drift diving (Journal article: Hicks and Watson 1985), a direct counting technique whereby snorkel divers drift in rivers to make direct counts of salmon and trout. At the same time, I develop my skills in wading electrofishing, which is a complementary technique for estimating fish populations in wadeable streams (Journal article: Hicks and McCaughan 1997, Hicks 2003). With Masters students, I extended these techniques to include night-time spotlight counts of large, stream-dwelling galaxiids in the first quantitative application of spotlighting in New Zealand (Journal article: McCullough and Hicks 2002). The advantage of spotlighting over netting and electrofishing is the minimal disturbance of vulnerable native fish populations. Most recently, I have developed quantitative boat electrofishing in New Zealand (Conference proceedings: Hicks et al. 2006), and my team continues to operate the only electrofishing boat in the country. I have used a combination of graphical information systems (GIS) skills, statistical analyses of fish abundance, and systematic application of multiple captures to produce a unique quantitative view of fish abundance New Zealand lakes and rivers. These techniques have produced the first rapid, simple, analyses of complete fish communities in nonwadeable habitats New Zealand. The services of our electrofishing boat and its qualified team continue to be in demand for many on-going contracts with external clients, most of which results in internally reviewed client reports.

Tracing fish life histories through otolith microchemistry

I was instrumental in the use of laser ablation coupled with mass spectrometry to investigate the life histories of freshwater fish through the microchemistry of otoliths, a small calcium carbonate structure in the fish’s head that is analogous to human ear bones. I began this work in collaboration with GNS in Lower Hutt (Journal articles: Baker and Hicks 2003, Hicks et al. 2005a), which I have continued through student research (Journal articles: Blair and Hicks 2012, Tana and Hicks 2012). This work has led to commercial contracts with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council that supported a Masters student (Riceman) and on-going funded research of the impacts of the Lake Rotoiti diversion wall (Contract reports: Blair and Hicks 2009, Hicks et al. 2011). Otolith microchemistry of Antarctic toothfish is the current research topic of Ph.D. student (Tana). This research will investigate to spawning stock identification and improved species’ management.

Remote sensing of water quality in lakes

The most recent development of my research team has been to apply remote sensing to investigate water quality of lakes. This technique can be widely applied using archival satellite images, and can produce accurate spatial measurements of chlorophyll (Allan et al. 2011) and suspended sediment concentrations (Hicks et al. 2013), and surface water temperature. We have automated these techniques in collaboration with staff from the Department of Geography, Tourism and Environmental Planning and with financial support from the Waikato Regional Council. During the course of this research we have supported a Masters student (Allan) and a Ph.D. student (Ashraf), and we initiated a GIS laboratory report research within the FSE. The skills we have developed have resulted in external contracts (Contract reports: Ashraf 2007, 2008, 2009), and our GIS research supports research of the UoW Antarctic programme and NIDEA. I have established a GIS laboratory with a GIS expert, Lars Brabyn, of FASS.

Research Supervised


  • Tana, Raymond (in progress). Assessing the population structure of Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni) in the Southern Ocean using otolith chemistry and genetics.
  • Allan, Mathew (2014). Remote sensing, numerical modelling and ground truthing for analysis of lake water quality and temperate.
  • Sawar, Saleem (2013). Reservoir life expectancy in relation to climate and land-use changes: case study of the Mangla Reservoir in Pakistan.
  • Wang, Meng (2013). Integrated model development for the assessment of food security in China related to climate change and adaptation
  • Baillie, Brenda (2012). The physical and biological function of wood in New Zealand's forested stream ecosystems.
  • Blair, Jennifer (2012). Factors controlling common smelt abundance and trout production in the Rotorua Lakes, New Zealand.
  • Daniel, Adam (2009). Detection probability, habitat use, and movements of course fish in the lower Waikato River and its lakes.
  • West, D.W. 2006. Responses of wild freshwater fish to anthropogenic stressors in the Waikato River of New Zealand.
  • Parkyn, S.M. 2000. Effects of native forest and pastoral land use on the population dynamics and trophic role of the New Zealand freshwater crayfish Paranephrops planifrons (Parastacidae).


  • Young, Kim (2002). Life history of fluvial and lacustrine land-locked koaro (Galaxias brevipinnis) Günther (Pisces: Galaxiidae) in the Tarawera lakes and implications for population restoration.

MSc (chief supervisor)

  • de Villiers, Joshua (2013). Assessment of injury to New Zealand native fish by boat electrofishing.
  • Law, Duncan (2012). Long-term variations in fish assemblage, macrophyte community, and water quality in Lake Rotoroa (Hamilton Lake).
  • Mahoney, Brennan (2012). Determining and testing the optimal pure-tone frequency for use in acoustic conditioning of free-ranging common carp (Cyprinus carpio).
  • Tana, Raymond (2009). Population dynamics and migrational history of torrentfish (Cheimarrichthys fosteri, Haast 1874) in two Waikato streams on the North Island of New Zealand.
  • Allan, Mathew (2008). Remote sensing of water quality in Rotorua and Waikato lakes.
  • Riceman, Matthew (2008). The use of otolith microchemistry to investigate natal origins and movement of lacustrine wild rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and common smelt (Retropinna retropinna).
  • Aldridge, Brenda (2008). Restoring giant kokopu (Galaxias argenteus) populations in Hamilton’s urban streams.
  • Blair, Jennifer (2008). An investigation of koi carp (Cyprinus carpio) movement in the Waikato region using laser ablation otolith microchemistry.
  • Willoughby, M. 2006. Variation in 5-alpha cyprinol sulphate in the bile of koi carp (Cyprinus carpio haemoptera). MSc thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 88p.
  • Klee, D. 2006. Seasonal and depth dynamics of food webs in three Rotorua lakes using stable isotopes. MSc thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 83p.
  • McBride, C.G. 2005. Stable isotopes in the Rotorua lakes: food web structures and relationships to lake morphology and limnology. MSc thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 67p.
  • Bryant, N. 2003. Water quality, phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish in the University of Waikato campus lakes, Hamilton, New Zealand. MSc thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 97p.
  • August, Stella M. 2003. Arrival patterns and environmental cues associated with the upstream migration of glass eels into the Tukituki River, Hawke Bay. MSc thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 68p.
  • Roberts, Peter J. 2002. Fish abundance in Hamilton Lake (Lake Rotoroa). MSc thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 89p.
  • Bannon, H.J. 2001. Biological responses to grass carp (Ctenopharnygodon idella) in Waikato drains. Master's thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 74p.
  • Millar, J.P. 2001. Inanga (Galaxias maculatus) in the lower Waikato River. Master's thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 132p.
  • Booker, J.R. 2000. Smelt (Retropinna retropinna) displacement and population dynamics in the Waikato River system. Master's thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 116p.
  • Mill, S.A. 2000. Rainbow and brown trout migrations in the Ngongotaha Stream, Rotorua, New Zealand. Master's thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 62p.
  • Riordan, P. 2000. Population dynamics, habitat analysis and food assimilation in the freshwater crayfish Paranephrops planifrons in a North island stream. Master's thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 104p.
  • Vaz, R. 2000. The movements, age, growth, and abundance of rainbow trout in selected headwater rivers of the central North Island. Master's thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 95p.
  • McCullough, C. D. 1998. Abundance, behaviour, and habitat requirements of the nocturnal banded kokopu (Galaxias fasciatus) Gray (Pisces: Galaxiidae).  Master's thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 135 p.
  • Ashcroft, T. T. A. 1998. The influence of land use on stream macroinvertebrate communities within the drift and benthos. Master's thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton.  160 p.
  • Lake, M.D. 1998. The feeding ecology of rudd (Scardinius erythrophthalmus) in New Zealand. Master's thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 63p.
  • Clements, S. P. 1996.  Primary and secondary response to trapping in wild rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss).  Master's thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton.  102 p.
  • Barnes, G. E. 1996. The biology and general ecology of the brown bullhead catfish (Ameiurus nebulosus) in Lake Taupo.  Master's thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 114 p.
  • Kane, D. S. 1995. The status of fish in Hamilton Lake (Lake Rotoroa).  Master's thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton.  121p.
  • McCaughan, H. M. C. 1995.  Use of otolith radii to estimate age and back-calculate growth in selected New Zealand native fish species.  Master's thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton.  112p.
  • Barrier, R. F. G. 1993.  Investigation of habitat preferences of black mudfish in the Waikato region and their interaction with mosquitofish.  Master's thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton.  86p.

MSc (co-supervisor)

  • Garrett-Walker, Jeremy. 2014. The ecology of constructed ponds on the lower Waikato River floodplain: implications of waterfowl management. MSc thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 160 p. Jointly supervised with Kevin Collier.
  • Johnston, T. 2011. Comparison of riparian willows and riprap as habitat for fish and invertebrates in the Waikato River. MSc thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. Jointly supervised with Kevin Collier.
  • Oulavallickal, Tifany. 2010. Using koi carp to produce fish silage. Master of Engineering, University of Waikato, Hamilton. Jointly supervised with Janis Swan.
  • Viswam, Jayadev P. 2010. Possibility of rendering koi carp. Master of Engineering, University of Waikato, Hamilton. Jointly supervised with Janis Swan.
  • Carter, K.S. 2009. Pest or pastime? Coarse fish in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Master of Social Science, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 172 p. Jointly supervised with Mairi Jay.
  • Hailes, S.F. 2006. Contribution of seagrass (Zostera muelleri) to estuarine food webs revealed by carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis. MSc thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. Jointly supervised with Conrad Pilditch.
  • Osborne, M.W. 2006. Ecology of koi carp (Cyprinus carpio) in the Waikato River. MSc thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. Jointly supervised with Nick Ling.
  • Tempero, G.W. 2004. Population biology of koi carp in the Waikato region. MSc thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. 109p. Jointly supervised with Nick Ling.
  • Den Doncker, Sebastien. 2002. Potentiels d'utilisation des otolithes de truites arc-en-ciel (Oncorhynchus mykiss Walbaum) du Lac Taupo en Novelle-Zelande: croissance et signature chimique. Mémoire de fin études, Faculte Universitaire des Sciences Agronomiques de Gembloux, Belgium. Jointly supervised with Michel Dedual, DOC Taupo.
  • Binzegger, S. 2000. Genetic status and ecology of dwarf inanga (Galaxias gracilis) in Northland dune lakes. MSc thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton. Jointly supervised with Nick Ling.
  • Watene, E. M. 1997. The use of stable isotopic analyses to determine the fate of pulp and paper mill effluent in the Waikato River. MSc thesis in Chemistry, University of Waikato. 112 p. Jointly supervised with Chris Hendy.


Biology; Environment Issues; Natural Resources; Statistics

Freshwater ecology Freshwater fish

Recent Publications

  • Leathwick, J. R., Collier, K. J., Hicks, B. J., Ling, N., Stichbury, G., & de Winton, M. (2016). Predictions of establishment risk highlight biosurveillance priorities for invasive fish in New Zealand lakes. Freshwater Biology, 14 pages. doi:10.1111/fwb.12792

  • Hicks, B., Collier, K. J., & Ling, N. (2016). Lessons learned from invasive fish research in the Waikato. In The Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia (SERA) & the New Zealand Ecological Society (NZES) Joint Conference. Conference held at Claudelands Events Centre, Hamilton, New Zealand.

  • Stewart, S., Hamilton, D. P., Baisden, T., Verburg, P., Duggan, I., Dedual, M., . . . Hicks, B. (2016). Food web resilience in Lake Taupo: Responses to prolonged stratification and implications of climate warming. In The Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia (SERA) & the New Zealand Ecological Society (NZES) Joint Conference. Conference held at Claudelands Events Centre, Hamilton, New Zealand.

  • Parshotam, A., Menkes, D., Hicks, B. J., Masters, J., Hamilton, D., Cox, T., . . . Casey-Cox, A. (2016). RESTORE: A nexus of science and community working toward the restoration of Lake Rotoroa. In The Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia (SERA) & the New Zealand Ecological Society (NZES) Joint Conference. Conference held at Claudelands Events Centre, Hamilton, New Zealand.

View All research publications by Brendan Hicks

Contact Details

Room: R.2.14
Phone: +64 7 838 4661
Cellphone: +64 21 832 287