Dr Catherine Attard

Academic Status

College of Science and Engineering

Research expertise

I use DNA to answer questions in the fields of ecology, evolution and conservation. Using DNA, I have determined what and where different species and populations exist, when and how they got there, pinpointed the basis of evolved adaptations, discovered human impacts, and informed conservation and management.

Research expertise

I use DNA to answer questions in the fields of ecology, evolution and conservation. Using DNA, I have determined what and where different species and populations exist, when and how they got there, pinpointed the basis of evolved adaptations, discovered human impacts, and informed conservation and management.

place Biological Sciences
GPO Box 2100, Adelaide 5001, South Australia

I grew up in Sydney and always enjoyed nature. My undergraduate biology degree at the University of Western Sydney took a turn towards genetics - I realised how DNA can be used to answer a range of questions in ecology and evolution, and that these answers can be applied to conservation and management. This led me to a Honours and PhD in blue whale conservation genetics at Macquarie University, Sydney, with my PhD awarded in 2014. I moved to Adelaide and have since been a lecturer and researcher at Flinders University in ecological, evolutionary and conservation genomics. Specifically, I am a key member of the Molecular Ecology Lab and the Cetacean Ecology, Behaviour and Evolution Lab at Flinders.

Qualifications
  • PhD in Biology, 2014. Macquarie University, Australia
  • BSc (Honours) in Biology, 2008. Macquarie University, Australia
  • BSc (Advanced Science) in Biological Sciences, 2007. University of Western Sydney, Australia
Honours, awards and grants
  • Vice-Chancellor's Award for Early Career Researchers, 2018. Flinders University, Adelaide.
  • SA Young Tall Poppy Award, 2018. Australian Institute of Policy and Science.
  • Dean's Medal, 2007. University of Western Sydney, Australia.

Research funding

Total external funding AU$475,913.61, GBP19,381 and US$2,900. Total internal funding AU$16,000. Funding >$15,000:

  • GBP19,381. International Whaling Commission’s Southern Ocean Research Partnership (IWC-SORP), UK. 2016. Möller, Attard (chief investigators), Beheregaray (co-investigator). “Population genomic structure of Antarctic blue whales in the Antarctic feeding grounds.”

  • AU$189,786.73. Australian Marine Mammal Centre, Australian Antarctic Division, Department of the Environment, Australia. 2014. Möller, Attard (chief investigators), Double, Burton, Paton (co-investigators). “Satellite tagging of blue whales in southern Australian waters: examining movements and occupancy patterns to inform management decision-making.”
  • AU$27,500. Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation, Australia. 2013. Attard, Möller, Beheregaray (chief investigators). "From conservation genetics to conservation genomics: assessing adaptive variation and population parameters of management significance in the endangered blue whale.”
  • AU$81,836.60. Australian Marine Mammal Centre, Australian Antarctic Division, Department of the Environment, Australia. 2009. Attard, Möller (chief investigators), Beheregaray, Ilangakoon, Anderson, Jenner, Gill, Burton, Morrice, Jenner (co-investigators). “Population genetic structure of blue whales in Australia and surrounding regions: Genetic assessment of northern Indian Ocean blue whales and connectivity with Australian blue whales.”
  • AU$131,598.40. Australian Marine Mammal Centre, Australian Antarctic Division, Department of the Environment, Australia. 2009. Möller, Gill, Jenner, Burton, Attard, Morrice, Jenner, Double, Beheregaray (chief investigators). “Population size of blue whales in Australian waters.”
  • AU$43,691.88. Australian Marine Mammal Centre, Australian Antarctic Division, Department of the Environment, Australia. 2008. Möller (chief investigator), Beheregaray, Attard, Burton, Gill, Jenner, Morrice, Jenner, Double, Harcourt (co-investigators). “Unravelling the genetic structure and diversity of Balaenoptera musculus in Australia: the genetic identity of Geographe Bay blue whales.”

Key responsibilities
  • Topic coordination of BIOL3722 "Conservation and ecological genetics"
  • Research in ecological, evolutionary and conservation genomics
Research expertise
Ecology
Evolutionary biology
Genetics
Research interests

My research involves the advancement and application of DNA tools to management and conservation across multiple species. It has more broadly improved our understanding of ecology and evolution, and therefore our understanding of life.

I am heavily involved in research with Prof Luciano Beheregaray on how past climates have shaped the evolutionary and ecological underpinnings of biodiversity, and applying this knowledge to current biodiversity management. This has mostly focussed on Australian freshwater fishes. It includes understanding how animals have adapted to harsh and unpredictable environments, and the implications of this given future expected changes in climate. We have also advanced the use of genetic and genomic information to improve captive breeding, reintroduction and supplementation programs. This has been applied to saving multiple species of freshwater fishes and even to Galápagos giant tortoises. We have also used DNA information to determine management units of an economically important fish for well-informed fisheries management. Such research advances the conservation and management of species worldwide.

I also lead with A/Prof Luciana Möller a research program on the conservation genomics of blue whales – the world’s largest animal. We have revealed that blue whales in Australia are one population, and that this population has low genetic diversity due to its relatively recent founding rather than due to 20th century whaling. This is good news as it means the population has had negligible genetic impoverishment from whaling. Our work also includes understanding the ecology and evolution of blue whale populations and subspecies in other countries. The research is well-recognised by the Federal Government and the International Whaling Commission for its contributions towards the conservation management of this endangered species.

Teaching interests
  • Ecology
  • Evolution
  • Conservation
  • Wildlife
  • Genetics
  • Genomics
Topic coordinator
BIOL3722 Conservation and Ecological Genetics
Supervisory interests
Conservation genetics
Ecology
Evolution
Molecular ecology
Population genetics
Publications
Expert for media contact
Animals
Biodiversity
Conservation
DNA studies
Ecology
Ecological, evolutionary and conservation genomics
Species expertise mostly in blue whales
Available for contact via
Or contact the media team
+61 8 82012092
0427 398 713
Researcher
Media expert
Media expertise
  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Conservation
  • DNA studies
  • Ecology
Interests
  • Ecological, evolutionary and conservation genomics
  • Species expertise mostly in blue whales
The Conversation

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