Mereia Tabua

Mereia Tabua

Suva-based but born and raised in Nadi, FIJI.

Collecting bryophytes on the summit of Mt. Tomaniivi, Fiji’s highest peak (Credit: Elia Nakoro)

My first encounter with bryophytes was via a textbook while undertaking an introductory plant biology course during my undergraduate days. I was not particularly keen on having to learn the life cycle of an organism that I could not relate to or had never heard of before. Fast forward four years later and I was drafting a proposal for my Master of Science thesis that would see me undertake the mammoth task of a comparative study of epiphytic bryophytes along an elevational gradient on Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island; the first ecological study of its kind for Fiji.

In 2011, a year prior to commencing my thesis, I was very fortunate to accompany a group of visiting bryologists, lichenologists, and pteridologists, carrying out field work on Viti Levu and Kadavu. It was during this cryptogam expedition that I first met Dr. Matt von Konrat, my mentor and very good friend, who has been my bryology beacon over the years and continues to render his unwavering support at every juncture of my career to-date. It was also on this same expedition that the cornerstone of my career was formed, where I ventured into a field that no one else in Fiji specialized in.

Three weeks of bryo-exploration and hands-on learning in the field and I was genuinely intrigued by these microplants. Upon returning to the herbarium in Suva, Ms. Laura Briscoe, a fellow bryologist, showed me the ropes on how to further examine their microscopic details. That’s what sealed the deal for me. I was immensely fascinated by how they came to life under the microscope, showing off their distinguishable characteristics, by just simply adding water to a dried specimen.

Ironically, it’s their microscopic size and details that has been the greatest challenge working with this group of plants, other than not having any other resident bryologists in Fiji, with whom I can consult. One of the greatest pleasures, however, is that I get to hike mountains and track through forests where most people have never stepped foot, while attempting to document the diversity and distribution of bryophytes in Fiji and other neighboring island countries. My most memorable experience so far has been encountering the incredible difference in bryoflora between the forested areas and the lava flow scrubs on the volcanic crater, Mata o le Afi, on the island of Savai’i in Samoa.

Tracking through Te Kou summit (left) and Raemaru summit (right), Rarotonga, Cook Islands (Credit: Peter de Lange)

On a slightly broader note, since taking on this field of study, the majority of rapid biodiversity assessments for Fiji now include preliminary checklists of bryophytes and ecological notes. This is pivotal in shedding some light on this often neglected group of plants. I am also privileged to be an elected council member for the International Association of Bryologists, a member of the Bryophyte Specialist Group for the IUCN Species Survival Commission, and the Associate Editor for the Bryological Times.