Cecilia is passionate about using genetic tools for the sustainable management of aquatic and terrestrial resources. She is currently working on a range of projects using the environmental DNA (eDNA) technique for biosecurity and conservation purposes. Cecilia is trailing field methods and conducting laboratory experiments testing the persistence and detectability of eDNA of an array of species of conservation and management significance, in freshwater and marine, as well as terrestrial ecosystems. She is working towards engaging non-specialists, including Indigenous ranger groups, for sample collection in remote areas of northern Australia.

Cecilia has previously worked on a wide variety of research topics, ranging from larval fish and seagrass ecology to invertebrate genomics. At James Cook University she pursued MSc in Marine Biology studying the factors affecting growth during early life stages of a reef-associated pelagic fish. She then worked for the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation of Queensland conducting seagrass monitoring along the northern and central Queensland coast. In 2013 Cecilia moved to Hobart to start a PhD at the University of Tasmania. Using next-generation sequencing (NGS) Cecilia investigated the patterns of larval dispersal of the Southern rock lobster in southeast Australia.

  • 2022 to present - Senior Research Officer, James Cook University (Australia)
  • 2018 to 2022 - Research Officer, James Cook University (Australia)
  • 2013 to 2018 - PhD, University of Tasmania (Australia)
  • 2011 to 2012 - Research Assistant, James Cook University (Australia)
  • 2008 to 2011 - MSc, James Cook University (Australia)
Research Disciplines
  • 2024 - Ecological Society of Australia (ESA)
  • 2023 - Southern eDNA Society (SeDNAS)
  • 2016 - Fisheries Society of the British Isles (FSBI)
  • 2024 - Editor of Austral Ecology
  • 2023 - Elected Board Member of the Southern eDNA Society (SeDNAS)

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 20+ research outputs authored by Dr Cecilia Villacorta Rath from 2014 onwards.

Current Funding

Current and recent Research Funding to JCU is shown by funding source and project.

Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment - Advancing Pest Animal and Weed Control Solutions Competitive Grant Round

Applying environmental DNA (eDNA) methods for Yellow crazy ant detection, a sensitive and less labour-intensive approach to invasive ant detection.

Indicative Funding
$629,505 over 4 years
Invasive invertebrates in Australia are estimated to impact agricultural production losses by $4.7 billion annually and cost up to $8 billion annually considering all impacts and expenses. More specifically, invasive ants are a significant threat to agricultural production, biodiversity, tourism, personal property, and local business and industry. Current methods for invasive ant detection (i.e. baited traps or cards, pitfall traps, and detection dogs) rely on trapping, smelling, or sighting active individuals and are therefore labour-intensive, costly, and highly reliant on weather conditions. The proposed project will apply environmental DNA methods for yellow crazy ant (YCA) detection. YCA has been listed as a high priority species under the National Invasive Ant Biosecurity Plan 2018-2028, and will be used as a case study. The proposed methodology could be applied to the existing infestations and taken up by farmers, as well as being applied to other terrestrial pests.
Cecilia Villacorta Rath and Lori Lach (TropWater and College of Science & Engineering)
Early detection; yellow crazy ant; DNA; Invasive Species; Monitoring

Great Barrier Reef Foundation - Reef Trust Partnership

Improving waterway monitoring in the Australian tropics with eDNA sampling

Indicative Funding
$70,100 over 1 year
This project will develop an eDNA metabarcoding technique to enable a more comprehensive assessment of fish assemblages in tropical waterways than is possible using conventional sampling methods. This project will be undertaken as a collaboration between OzFish Unlimited, Townsville City Council and the Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER). Samples will be collected by OzFish and Townsville City Council volunteers through existing citizen science initiatives.
Cecilia Villacorta Rath in collaboration with Natale Snape (TropWater)
Biodiversity; Fish communities; eDNA; Monitoring; Citizen science; Metabarcoding

Great Barrier Reef Foundation - Reef Trust Partnership

Super-charging Biosecurity Surveillance for early detection of cryptic pest fauna in the GBR World Heritage Area

Indicative Funding
$224,939 over 2 years (administered by QLD Department of Environment and Science)
This project will use the emerging technique of environmental DNA (eDNA) to improve the monitoring capacity for targeted invasive ants (yellow crazy ants, electric ants, red imported fire ants, tropical fire ants) across high-risk islands of the GBR. The main aim is to conduct eDNA monitoring of four invasive ant species and identify early incursions and potential changes in abundance over time. Field sampling will involve simple protocols and will be in charge of Indigenous Rangers, citizen scientists, tour operators or others through either structured or opportunistic monitoring programs. Detection of target species could trigger eradication programs and decrease the impact of invasive ants on the native biodiversity. Information provided by the project will also allow prioritisation of future efforts to prevent future incursions.
Cecilia Villacorta Rath and Natale Snape (TropWater)
Early detection; eDNA; Invasive species; Monitoring; Ants; Great Barrier Reef

Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment - National Soil Science Challenge

Biosecurity molecular screening using eDNA technology

Indicative Funding
$446,000 over 2 years
This project will test the application of environmental DNA (eDNA) methods for invasive honeybees and bee parasites. The primary objective of the project is to research eDNA technology along with portable sequencing devices to determine their applicability for operational use in screening for priority species and diseases. In scopeactivities include development and testing of eDNA methods for laboratory analysis as well as portable diagnostic technology for detection in operational environments. The project will be carried out in collaboration with The Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS), the University of Canberra and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
Cecilia Villacorta Rath in collaboration with Geoff Grossel, Con Golestos and Uday Divi (TropWater, Commonwealth Department of Agriculture and Water and the Environment)
Early detection; Monitoring; eDNA; In-situ detection; Invasive bees; Bee parasites

Advisory Accreditation: I can be on your Advisory Panel as a Primary or Secondary Advisor.

These Higher Degree Research projects are either current or by students who have completed their studies within the past 5 years at JCU. Linked titles show theses available within ResearchOnline@JCU.

  • Development and Application of Novel Genetic Tools for the Investigation of Genetic Diversity and Age Structure of Crown-of-Thorns Seastar on the Great Barrier Reef (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • Exploring the return of nursery function in recovering tropical seagrass meadows using capture methods and eDNA Metabarcoding (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • The Biology, Monitoring and Conservation of the Endangered Giant Triton Snail, Charonia tritonis, a potential Crown-of-Thorns Biocontrol agent (PhD , Primary Advisor)

The map shows research collaborations by institution from the past 7 years.
Note: Map points are indicative of the countries or states that institutions are associated with.

  • 5+ collaborations
  • 4 collaborations
  • 3 collaborations
  • 2 collaborations
  • 1 collaboration
  • Indicates the Tropics (Torrid Zone)

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