Cathryn Abbott

Research Scientist

Research in biodiversity and genomics including molecular detection of regulated species

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Current research and/or projects

My academic training was in evolutionary genetics with a focus on vertebrate population genetics and phylogeography. I am interested in: understanding how genetic diversity is apportioned at the within species level in natural populations; deciphering the mechanisms driving its distribution; and using this information to answer a wide variety of applied environmental and ecological questions including to facilitate resource and conservation management. Current projects include:

  • research into the taxonomy and evolution of Mikrocytos mackini, a parasite of Pacific oysters;
  • molecular phylogeny of Gyrodactylus spp. native in Canada;
  • stock delineation of migratory and resident Pacific Hake in Canadian waters;
  • population and conservation genetics of Rhinoceros Auklets, a species caught as fisheries bycatch in large numbers;
  • testing the efficacy of using DNA barcoding to identify fisheries bycatch birds to species level;
  • application of genetic markers to species identification and population genetics of the invasive tunicate, Didemnum vexillum.

Research and/or project statements

  1. Research and development on Mikrocytos mackini (a federally regulated parasite of Pacific oysters), including: development of validated molecular diagnostic assay for regulatory testing; resolution of the phylogenetic position of Mikrocytos; transmission risks and general biology (2011-current).
  2. Developed a new integrative framework for large-scale assessments of biodiversity and community dynamics, using littoral gastropods and crabs of British Columbia, Canada as a model (2016).
  3. Current project: Development and field testing of metabarcoding-based environmental DNA biosurveillance tool for aquatic invasive species including finfish and dreissenid mussels in BC.
  4. Current project: Development and validation of a biomonitoring tool to assess the impacts of salmon aquaculture on marine benthic communities using metabarcoding.
  5. Current project: Development of environmental DNA (eDNA)-based biosurveillance for aquatic invasive species (AIS) to inform management and policy decision-making associated with shellfish aquaculture movements.

Professional activities / interests

  • I was a member of the Project Management team for the federal interdepartmental Genomics Research and Development Initiative project on Quarantine and Invasive Species (2011-2016), which was awarded a Public Service Award of Excellence for outstanding scientific contribution. The project focused on DNA barcoding and metabarcoding to develop and implement faster, more accurate ways to identify and trace the origin of invasive species. The success of the project validated the collaborative model of research in government and demonstrated that stronger results can be achieved for Canadians by sharing knowledge and resources.
  • I am head of a molecular biology laboratory within DFO’s National Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory System (NAAHLS) that supports Canada’s National Aquatic Animal Health Program (NAAHP). The NAAHP is led by the CFIA and is co-delivered by DFO; in my lab we conduct research, provide scientific advice, and perform diagnostic testing for aquatic animal diseases that are regulated due to their potential impact on trade and/or the Canadian economy.
  • I co-supervise graduate students through collaborations with academic scientists; for example, as a PI on the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network.

Education and awards

Ph.D. Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics (2005) Australian National University

B.Sc.H, Biology (1997) Queen's University

Key publications

  1. Sequence homogeneity of internal transcribed spacer rDNA in Mikrocytos mackini and detection of Mikrocytos sp. in a new location
  2. Twelve microsatellite markers in the invasive tunicate, Didemnum vexillum, isolated from low coverage 454 pyrosequencing reads
  3. Development of a SNP-based genetic marker system based on variation in microsatellite flanking regions of Phytophthora infestans
  4. A New Genus and Species of Gyrodactylid (Monogenea) From Silver Hake, Merluccius Bilinearis, in the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada
  5. The placement of Gyrodactylus salmonis (Yin and Sproston) in the molecular phylogeny of studied members of the Gyrodactylus (Monogenea) wageneri-group parasitizing salmonids.
  6. Health status of Olympia Oysters (Ostrea lurida) in British Columbia, Canada.
  7. Initial investigation of population and conservation genetics in the coastal giant salamander, Dicamptodon tenebrosus, using microsatellite markers.
  8. A global assessment of the impact of fisheries-related mortality on shy and white-capped albatrosses: conservation implications
  9. Molecular provenance analysis for shy and white-capped albatrosses killed by fisheries interactions in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa
  10. Copulation behaviour and paternity in shy albatrosses (Thalassarche cauta)
  11. An unusual source of apparent mitochondrial heteroplasmy: Duplicate mitochondrial control regions in Thalassarche albatrosses
  12. Phylogeography of shy and white-capped albatrosses inferred from mitochondrial DNA sequences: implications for population history and taxonomy
  13. Genetic structure, conservation genetics and evidence of speciation by range expansion in shy and white-capped albatrosses
  14. Morphometric comparison of Australian Shy and New Zealand White-capped Albatrosses
  15. Hierarchical analysis of population structure in the noisy miner using DNA microsatellite markers