Seed Funding recipient, Dr Catherine Attard, is fighting for the conversation of the world’s largest animal though her genomics research.
Dr Catherine Attard, College of Science and Engineering, is one of ten early career researchers who received a donor funded Impact Seed Funding grant to conduct her important research project in 2018. Dr Attard's research project "Conservation genomics of the world’s largest animal, the blue whale" will use cutting-edge genomic techniques to address ecological and conservation-orientated questions about the world’s largest animal, the blue whale. It aims to accurately determine the number, distribution, degree of connectivity and adaptive evolution of subspecies and populations in the species worldwide. The project will have a global impact by informing the national and international management of the species. Such scientific-based conservation is crucial to promote the recovery of blue whales from 20th century whaling. Cahterinee describes her research;
“Blue whales are massive, up to 160 000 kilograms, 30 metres long, partly because of this last century they were hunted to near extinction. Despite this we know very little about them as they occupy a massive ocean. Collaborators, colleagues at Flinders University and I have been collecting DNA samples from them for over a decade, the Impact Seed Funding is giving me the support I need to compare and analyse the DNA samples between the these blue whales from localities worldwide. This will allow us to answer key ecological and evolutionary questions about them, such as the number and the distribution of their populations. This benefits the blue whales as it will inform conversation management decisions at an national and international level. Both the whales and I thank you for your support”
More broadly, Catherine conducts genomic research to answer fundamental questions in ecology and evolution, and applies those answers to management and conservation. She is a key member of the Molecular Ecology Lab and the Cetacean Ecology, Behaviour and Evolution Lab at Flinders, where she works with research leaders Professor Luciano Beheregaray and Associate Professor Luciana Möller. Luciana and Catherine together developed a long-standing research program on endangered blue whales, with the Impact Seed Grant allowing Catherine to broaden its geographic scope and move it from genetic to more powerful genome-wide techniques. Among numerous other achievements, Catherine with the research team have developed and implemented advances to captive breeding and reintroduction programs; improved Australian fisheries management of the heavily-stocked and economically-important golden perch; and used DNA to uncover dangerous human impacts on multiple species.
Catherine’s Impact Seed Grant research is expected to inform the management of blue whales by the International Whaling Commission, the Australian Government, and overseas nations. The latter includes management in the eastern Pacific and NZ through collaborations with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US Government, Oregon State University in the US (who conduct blue whale research in NZ), and the Centro de Conservacion Cetacea in Chile. Her research benefits the environment and, consequently, humanity due to the recreational, health, and economic value of the environment.