Dr Kate Brandis is an internationally recognised applied ecologist with over 20 years experience researching the waterbirds, wetlands and rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin in eastern Australia.
An expert in colonial waterbirds and the management of water, her work aims to improve environmental water management to conserve and protect Australia’s wetlands and waterbirds.
Dr Brandis also has expertise in identifying the geographic provenance of wildlife for use in addressing the illegal wildlife trade.
Dr Brandis works and collaborates with landholders, traditional owners, and other stakeholders including research institutions (CSIRO, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO)). Dr Brandis also regularly works with state and federal catchment management authorities and government departments (Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW Department of Planning and Environment and the Murray Darling Basin Authority), with her research informing and underpinning national decision-making.
Dr Brandis’ research areas include elemental and stable isotope analysis of biological samples to address ecological challenges in particular, responses of waterbirds to temporarily flooded arid and semi-arid wetland systems, with a focus on river systems with altered flow regimes.
Dr Brandis’ work often includes monitoring large colonial waterbird breeding events including measuring reproductive success, dietary analyses, feather isotope analyses, species diversity and species abundance.
Through her work, in 2020 Dr Brandis identified a major knowledge gap in our understanding of the continental-scale movement and habitat use by waterbirds, leading to her pioneering research into the novel application of intrinsic biomarkers to track waterbirds and other taxa.
Dr Brandis established a research portfolio in this area after specialised training in the United States and the successful completion of a three-year fellowship (2015-2018) with ANSTO.
Dr Brandis has experience in ecological response modelling, specifically waterbird responses to different flow and wetland conditions. She has extensive experience in a range of survey techniques and datasets including hydrological, climatic, ecological survey data, atlas data, satellite imagery, remote sensing, aerial photography, geographic information system (GIS) datasets, and scientific literature.
Dr Brandis’ expertise in intrinsic biomarkers has led to two large research projects, whose applications continue to expand.
The first was the highly successful national citizen science project, the Feather Map of Australia Project. The Project saw hundreds of citizens from across the country collect waterbird feathers and send them in for analysis. The feathers were studied to identify stable isotopes and elements that are incorporated into feathers through the ingestion of food to track the movement of waterbirds, to create the first ever Feather Map of Australia. The project was an Australian first and provided a new non-invasive method of tracking waterbirds without the need for capturing animals.
The second major project was an innovative wildlife forensic study identifying bioindicators. The study is aimed at combating the illegal wildlife trade and has resulted in numerous collaborations with international partners and large corporations. In partnership with the Taronga Conservation Society, she was successful in attracting significant philanthropic donations (>$1million) resulting in a three-year research fellowship (2020-2023).
As a leading expert in her field, Dr Brandis is frequently called on by state and federal agencies to undertake scientific monitoring and analysis during colonial waterbird breeding events.
Qualifications and achievements
BSc(hons) Macquarie University 1998
MEnvSc Macquarie University 2002
PhD University of New South Wales 2010
Committees, affiliations and memberships
Dr Brandis has worked on multi-disciplinary teams and been involved in expert advisory panels on a number of specific wetland projects including the Macquarie Marshes, Narran Lakes, Kings Billabong, Hattah Lakes, and Lowbidgee Wetlands.
Dr Brandis is a member of the IUCN Species Specialist Group: Stork, Ibis and Spoonbills, she is also a member of the Australian Wildlife Health Network, Associate Editor for Waterbirds: International Journal of Waterbird Biology and a member of the Atlas of Living Australia Advisory Board.
Natal site fidelity and Australian pelicans in the Murray-Darling Basin, NSW. Joint project with NSW DPE
Waterbird genetics - unraveling natal site fidelity across the Murray-Darling Basin, Joint project with Macquarie University
Feather Map of Australia - www.ansto.gov.au/feathermap
Avian botulism and water management. Joint project with NSW DPE
Developing a real-time forensic tool to determine animal provenance. Joint project with Taronga Conservation Society, ANSTO, UTS
Management of environmental flows for waterbirds in the Murray-Darling Basin
Nimmi-Caira Gayini consortium member.
My Research Supervision
PhD - Claire Sives - Zooplankton and ephemeral lakes in semi-arid Australia
PhD - Kaytlyn Davis - Genetics of Australian waterbirds