Linnaeus Laboratory Gisborne

Drawn from around the world, the Linnaeus team have grown from three to thirteen very talented staff providing the local farming, horticulture, forestry and fishing industries with access to a comprehensive range of diagnostic testing.

Shanna Hickling Manager (BSc)
"I get to see the results we deliver, directly impact the quality of horticultural products."
0800 254 662
027 620 0001

Shanna joined Linnaeus in 2013 after graduating with a bachelor of science in microbiology and genetics. "I finished Massey on Friday, came back home to Gisborne and started at Riversun on Monday!"

And she hasn't looked back. In past few years Shanna has leapt from graduate to researcher to deputy laboratory manager and now heads the Linnaeus R&D team. As deputy lab manager, Shanna was responsible for overseeing lab operations including the ELISA virus-testing programme which involved a meticulous methodology that Shanna sums up as: "Grapevine leaves or canes come into the lab, and results come out stating whether a virus is present or not detected".

Shanna is constantly looking for new challenges and in her current role she is responsible for designing, setting up and analysing results of R&D field trials, including R&D to support Riversuns’ goal as NZ’s leading supplier of premium plant material.

Shanna says in her role she particularly enjoys the fact that “you get to see the results we deliver, directly impact the quality of horticultural products.

In 2017 Shanna completed the Horticulture NZ Leadership programme and won the New Zealand Plant Producers 2017 Young Achiever competition going on to take the title of 2017 Young Horticulturist of the Year. In 2018, Shanna was selected as an observer on the Primary Sector Council which provides independent strategic advice to the Government on issues confronting the primary industries.

Steve Donnelly Lab Manager (MSc)
Steve brings a scientific methodical attitude and a comprehensive understanding of quality management, from many years in public health and the military.
0800 254 662
027 562 3288

After 35 years in the demanding public health sector and the military, Steve is enjoying the work life balance and family friendly environment Riversun has a reputation for.


With a Masters in Biomedical Science achieved during his time as a military scientist in the UK, Steve is a specialist in haematology and blood transfusions.

Moving from the military to health sector, he was second in charge of haematology for a UK National Health Service (NHS) hospital laboratory. In 2006 Steve migrated to New Zealand with his family to be the head of haematology and blood transfusions at Gisborne Hospital.


Making a leap from people to plants, Steve left the health sector and was offered a role as Lab Manager with Linnaeus in 2016.


As the Linnaeus Lab Manager, Steve brings a scientific methodical attitude and a comprehensive understanding of quality management. Steve oversees the Linnaeus technical and processing team and is responsible for overseeing ELISA virus testing and environment testing for food and water. He also ensures the lab’s compliance to international standards through IANZ accreditation and the New Zealand Grafted Grapevine Standard.

Dr Eline van Zijll de Jong Molecular & Micro Programme Manager (PHD)
"I enjoy using my applied microbiology, plant pathology and molecular biology for the direct benefit of New Zealand’s grape growers."
0800 254 662
021 269 2749

Dr Eline van Zijll de Jong has joined the team at Linnaeus as Molecular Diagnostic & Micro Programme Manager. Her primary role is to lead the research, development and implementation of molecular biology diagnostic methods for detection of important pathogens in grapevines, avocado and food. In addition she will provide technical and analytical support to Linnaeus’ research programmes in plant and soil health.


Eline has a strong research background in applied plant microbiology and pathology, and the application of molecular biology methods to these areas. As part of her doctoral studies in Australia, she developed molecular genetic markers to uncover novel beneficial fungal grass endophytes. More recently Eline led a research team at Lincoln University to discover microorganisms for biological control of a pest and disease in brassicas.


Eline is looking forward to applying and advancing her skills in applied microbiology, plant pathology and molecular biology for the direct benefit of New Zealand’s grape growers.

Verdette Vedders Laboratory Technician
"No two days are the same at Linnaeus and I really enjoy the diversity and ‘can-do-attitude’ of the Linnaeus team."
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Verdette started with Linnaeus in August 2017 after 14 years as the Technologist at Gisborne Hospital Laboratory. With a background in medical technology, Verdette is enjoying the change to soil, food micro, grapevine virus and water chemistry.


Finding problem solving an interesting challenge, Verdette was attracted to Linnaeus by the scope for research and the chance to broaden her knowledge-base.


Originally from South Africa, Verdette brought her background in micro lab, research and haematology to NZ in 1999, to work for Canterbury Health. A few years later, longing for warmer climes, Verdette was lured to Gisborne by a friend, for the sun and surf.


Verdette says no two days are the same at Linnaeus and she really enjoys the diversity and ‘can-do-attitude’ of the Linnaeus team. In her spare time, Verdette enjoys travelling overseas and has taken on quite a few house renovation projects over the years.

Yvonne Wruck Laboratory Technician
"The circle is slowly closing for me to have a full view of what’s necessary to make good wine – it all starts in the vineyard."
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Yvonne Wruck joined Linnaeus in 2015, bringing with her significant experience in molecular biology, the wine industry and grapevine propagation. At Linnaeus she is responsible for ELISA testing and involved in R&D.


Returning to Gisborne in 2013 after working for a Greek winery, she set her sights on Linnaeus and says that working here has given her a more complete picture of the wine industry.


Outside of work, Yvonne is kept busy with her three daughters – with whom she enjoys the local beaches, forests and outdoors.

Brenda Overend Chemistry Laboratory Technician
“I like the focus of performing lab work, and I work hard to ensure accurate, consistent results.”
0800 254 662
021 052 9465

There was never a dull moment running the chemistry lab at Hydro-Technologies, says Brenda Overend.


When Brenda joined Hydro-Technologies 13 years ago, she already had 11 years’ experience in testing including plant tissue culture, wine testing and maize testing.


Riversun and its research and testing lab, Linnaeus, purchased the assets of Hydro-Technologies in 2006, retaining all the permanent laboratory staff. 

Brenda’s role at Linnaeus includes testing water for pH, chlorine, oil & grease, calcium and total hardness, alkalinity, chlorides, fluoride, BOD, COD, conductivity, salinity, and solids.


With a tertiary qualification in performance music, Brenda says she mainly plays Irish flute but also plays other styles. She belongs to the Women’s Native Tree Project Trust, which grows and plants native trees in public spaces.

Karen Neumegen Microbiology Technician (BSc)
“I enjoy seeing the raw product come into the lab and then finding out the results of the testing and reporting back to our clients.”
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Karen Neumegen started her career as a teacher after graduating with a Bachelor of Science from Massey University in 1976.


With over ten years’ experience as a microbiology technician, in charge of water and food testing, Karen is a key technical person for IANZ for all water micro tests and selected food tests.


She analyses drinking water to New Zealand drinking water standards, and performs various microbiological tests on swimming pool water, river water, wastewater and sewage.


When she’s not tramping or walking half-marathons, Karen maintains an interest in teaching children with special needs by working with SPELD, which provides information, assessment and tuition to individuals, families, businesses and schools.

Libby Dalcom Lab Technician (NDS)
“Every day is different and gives me the unrivaled opportunity to help local businesses and individuals provide premium produce to New Zealand and overseas markets.”
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Libby’s role at Linnaeus – testing food and water – gives her an insight into the vast range of produce grown and processed on the East Coast. 


A Gisborne native, Libby returned in 2016 after gaining a National Diploma of Science at CPIT in Christchurch and working in human pathology labs in Perth for eight years. She initially joined Linnaeus’s ELISA team then moved into food and water micro testing.


Outside of the lab, Libby enjoys the outdoors – walking, and exploring the East Coast’s many parks and beaches.

Dion Williams Field Technician
“I enjoy the outdoor nature of my job and the varied forms of work it comes in.”
0800 254 662
027 221 9419

Dion’s life revolves around water – both at work where he is mostly out and about collecting samples from across Tairawhiti, including bores, rivers, rainfall stations and trade waste, and at play where he surfs and coaches at Wainui Surf Lifesaving Club.


Dion’s 14 years’ experience in hydrological sampling is underpinned by certifications in water sampling from Opus and river gauging from NIWA.

Sophie Ovenden R&D Technician (BHSC)
"The team at Linnaeus were a big drawcard for me, as I was eager to work with experts in their field; often 1:1 which is very special."
0800 254 662

Every week is different for Sophie at Linnaeus – she could be collecting samples out in the field or organising the process for water sampling on a boat in the harbour to setting up R&D trials for Riversun’s baby grapevines or avocados.


Joining Linnaeus in early 2017, Sophie felt very fortunate to have found the perfect entry level job in a research field – right here in Gisborne. The team at Linnaeus were also a big drawcard with Sophie eager to work with experts in their field; often 1:1 which she says is very special.


Sophie has a Bachelor of Health Science, majoring in Psychology from Massey University. Her studies focused heavily on environmental science leading to a summer internship back home with the Gisborne District Council biosecurity team managing the ‘Check, Clean & Dry’ campaign.


At Linnaeus, Sophie is responsible for sample collections, administration and support. She particularly enjoys the R&D grapevine and avocado trials which involves set up, maintenance, monitoring and assessment - through to grading and inspection of the vines or plants and entering the resulting data for the R&D Manager to collate into a report.

Liam Norman R&D Technician (BSc)
"I am constantly learning and figuring out the ‘why’ and ‘what’ we can do to improve results."
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As part of the Linnaeus research and development team, Liam sets up and maintains grapevine and avocado trials. Using accurate scientific methodologies he also monitors growth, collects data and completes interim and final assessments for collation by the R&D Manager.


A culture of continuous improvement and being at the cutting edge was what attracted Liam to Linnaeus, as well the drive towards sustainability.


Prior to Linnaeus, Liam was studying a Bachelor of Science in Human Physiology at Otago University in Dunedin. Returning home to Gisborne in the summer of 2015/16, Liam found himself working in the Linnaeus laboratory as part the ELISA testing program in grapevine canes. From there he had a stint in traceability for avocado seed harvesting before permanently joining the Linnaeus R&D team.


With no previous background in agriculture or horticulture, Liam is thriving with the opportunity to constantly learn and figure out the ‘why’ and ‘what’ we can do to improve results.


The same values which drive Liam’s work also drive him in his spare time – unafraid to take on new challenges and learn new skills Liam spends his weekends on home improvement projects, woodworking, and even a spot of gardening.

Tom Needham Lab Technician (BSc & MMarcCon)
"I enjoy being able to work in a ‘commercial’ laboratory and put in place what I learnt at university."
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Tom joined Linnaeus in February 2018, after returning home after 4 years study at Victoria University in Wellington where he completed his BSc. Environmental Science & Marine Biology and a MMarcon (Masters in Marine Conservation).

During the university holidays Tom worked in the chillers at Ovation and has also spent many seasons on his family’s rootstock block in Gisborne, bud rubbing, tucking and trimming.

Tom sees his new role with Linnaeus as a stepping stone towards his dream job of working in native ecosystem restoration or long term monitoring of aquatics and marine systems.

As a lab technician, Tom logs and carries out testing of soil and water and has even had a stint with the R&D team setting up Kiwifruit cutting trials.

Tom says he is enjoying being able to work in a ‘commercial’ laboratory and put in place what he learnt at university. He recognises the potential to expand into different areas at Linnaeus and is learning lots from the variety of testing that comes in every day.

Nikki Horsman Office Manager (BAppSc)
"I have always been passionate about the environment, community and health, after all - they are intrinsically linked. This makes Linnaeus a perfect fit for me."
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Nikki moved from sister company Riversun Nursery to Linnaeus laboratory in April 2018 to be the new Office Manager which includes supporting the Linnaeus team, reception, receiving samples, administration and accounts.

With a career that includes working overseas coordinating facilitation of marine resource management plans, development and delivery of junior and adult marine education, client liaison, organisation of staff trips, support of client events, reception and administration - Nikki is relishing being around science again.

"I have always been passionate about the environment, community and health, after all - they are intrinsically linked. This makes Linnaeus a perfect fit for me. I was attracted by the passion and innovation of the team and the range of expertise and services offered. These qualities and the growing worldwide focus on environmental health, ticked all the boxes and make for very exciting possibilities in the future”, says Nikki.

The dynamic environment and the opportunity to learn on a daily basis is something Nikki finds really exciting and she wants to further her knowledge and experience, particularly in regards to coastal management, marine conservation and education. Given her passion, having the opportunity to support the team and participate in field sampling trips when the opportunity arises is a real highlight.

A keen surfer, Nikki's desire to always be by the ocean and give back to the marine environment led to her completing a BAppSc Marine Science & Fisheries (Distinction). When not at work, Nikki is surfing with her daughter, thinking about surfing or volunteering her time to organise and support local surf and environmental initiatives.