Three-toed skink (Saiphos equalis) emerging from an egg. (© Nadav Pezaro)

Applied and Evolutionary Zoology

Animal biology, evolution and conservation
Our projects focus on a range of taxa, including wildlife (lizards, marsupials, birds, fish) and domestic species, spanning fundamental zoology research as well as tackling applied questions in conservation and agriculture.

About us

The lab is headed by Dr Camilla Whittington and Dr Catherine Grueber. We have a diverse range of research interests, and work together on some projects, whilst also leading our own research themes.

Captive-bred Australian pot-bellied seahorses (Hippocampus abdominalis). Photo: Jacquie Herbert

Research Themes

Biology and evolution of pregnancy

Live birth (viviparity) has convergently evolved from egg-laying hundreds of times. For example, while there is only a single origin of pregnancy in the mammals, this trait has evolved many times in sharks, bony fish, amphibians, and more than 120 times in reptiles. This repeated evolution of pregnancy means that we can compare the biology of reproduction in animals representing independent origins of this trait to understand how viviparity has evolved.

We use a range of techniques including genetics/genomics, histology, morphology and physiology, to study the reproductive biology of lizards, seahorses, sharks, and other taxa. We’re interested in how pregnancy has evolved, as well as in understanding the fundamental biology of reproduction in these animals. For example, what is the function of a shark placenta? What triggers a male seahorse to give birth? What causes one individual lizard to give birth to live young, and another of the same species to lay eggs? Our interests encompass evolutionary biology, genetics and genomics, physiology, conservation, and animal behaviour. This research theme is led by Camilla Whittington; please see here for more information.

Long-nosed potoroo (Potorous tridactylus). Photo: Catherine Grueber

Long-nosed potoroo (Potorous tridactylus). Photo: Catherine Grueber

Conservation and evolutionary genetics

What causes a population to change? Are those changes reversible? How do human activities impact the sustainability of animal populations? We use population genetics to help design better conservation breeding programs for threatened species, restore dwindling wild populations, and secure a more sustainable food supply through the management of farm animals. These research questions have real-world applications for a wide range of fascinating animal species. Our research is made possible by collaboration with conservation partners working in State and Federal Government, the zoo industry, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and other conservation NGOs both in Australia and internationally.

Our team uses a variety of techniques, including molecular genetics and genomics to characterise individual differences, computational modelling to project the long-term outcomes of conservation strategies and test evolutionary projections, and meta-analysis and statistics to pull together insights from massive and diverse datasets. By studying the microevolutionary processes that impact animal populations, we can better understand what we need to do today in order to build resilient animal populations for tomorrow. This research theme is led by Catherine Grueber; please see here for more information.

Our people

We also typically work with several honours students each year. 2020 Honours Students:
  • Jordan Dwyer, Honours student
  • Gael Glassock, Honours student
  • Stephanie Liang, Honours student
  • Vertina Teh, Honours student
  • Aiden Wright, Honours student

Southern grass skink (Pseudemoia entrecasteauxii). Photo: Jacquie Herbert

Current opportunities

Evolution of viviparity in lizards

Evolution of vertebrate pregnancy

Evolution of viviparity in fish

Multi-omic responses to dietary change: insights from poultry

Evolutionary impacts of Tasmanian devil population restoration

For information about other opportunities to work or collaborate with us, please email Camilla ( or Catherine (