I am a molecular ecologist who uses genomic techniques and statistical models to answer questions on natural populations. Currently, I am investigating the role of behaviour in the global population structure of southern right whales. The species migrates thousands of kilometres between high-latitude feeding grounds and coastal winter calving/breeding grounds. Females have calves around every three years, and the calf migrates with its mother to her preferred feeding ground, and often back to their natal wintering ground. In this way, it seems the calf can learn it’s mothers preferred migratory destinations. This behaviour seems to have shaped the pattern of maternally-inherited mitochondrial DNA of southern right whales around the world. Using a combination of genomic tools, micro-chemical markers of feeding grounds and novel statistical models, we are going to test the hypothesis that migratory fidelity shapes patterns of connectivity on a global scale, for both males and females. This work is being undertaken at the University of St Andrews working with Prof. Oscar Gaggiotti and supported by a Newton International Fellowship from the Royal Society of London.
Previous postdoctoral research used next-generation sequencing technology to investigate Bryde’s whale diet and its association with the seasonal change in the plankton community of the Hauraki Gulf. This “plankton to pooh” project, led by Dr Rochelle Constantine and Dr Mary Sewell, was awarded University of Auckland Faculty Research Development Funding.
My PhD research has focussed on the recovering population of southern right whale Eubalaena australis around the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands.