Dr Leo Joseph is the Australian National Wildlife Collection's Research Director and Museum Curator.

Dr Leo Joseph is the Australian National Wildlife Collection's Research Director and Museum Curator.

Dr Leo Joseph: investigating the evolution of Australian birds

Dr Leo Joseph is the Director and research leader of the Australian National Wildlife Collection.

  • 12 April 2011 | Updated 14 February 2012

In this article

  1. Overview
  2. Publishing History


Page 1 of 2

Current activities

Dr Leo Joseph is the Research Director and the Curator of the Australian National Wildlife Collection (ANWC).

His activities centre around museum-based evolutionary biology, particularly in the integration of:

  • systematics
  • population genetics
  • biogeography and ecology of Australian and Neotropical birds, for example, habitat specialisation, migration and host specificity in brood parasites
  • phylogeography
  • conservation
  • natural history.

Dr Joseph’s main research area is the evolution and consequent diversity of widespread, common Australian birds.

This work arose out of Dr Joseph's studies on the evolution of host specificity in bronze-cuckoos.

Currently Dr Joseph’s main research area is the evolution and consequent diversity of widespread, common Australian birds.

His research program is looking at origins and mechanisms of differentiation in various species chosen to represent different points along a spectrum of geographical variation.

Dr Joseph also leads ANWC’s major project on waterfowl genetics, dispersal and implications for spread of disease, which is linked to his major research interests on Australia’s arid zone birds.

Dr Joseph has a strong commitment to investigating potential links between spatial modelling and genetic diversity, especially in the context provided by the irregularities of the Australian environment.

He is also interested in exploring new approaches to the questions of evolution in a changing climate, including the application of stable isotopes in biological systems.

Overall, Dr Joseph’s work contributes to knowledge of Australian biodiversity and of how species and habitats should be managed for long-term conservation.


After 11 years overseas, Dr Joseph returned to Australia to join the ANWC in December 2005.

Seven of the years overseas were spent in the United States of America (USA), where he was Chair of the Department of Ornithology at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

He has a broad background in exploring the long-term evolutionary context of present-day ecological diversity and population structure in birds, gained while undertaking studies of birds of Australia and South America.

Dr Joseph uses DNA-based methods to investigate bird species’ evolutionary history,  focussing on patterns of relationships among groups of closely related species.

His work also probes beneath the visible variation in the birds themselves to understand how genetic diversity is distributed across the landscape in each species.

This helps to understand how a species’ ecological diversity has evolved and how it is still evolving.

Dr Joseph has used predictive modelling of species distributions to develop a better understanding of the patterns and processes involved in the evolution and ecology of bird migration.

Academic qualifications

Dr Joseph was awarded:

  • a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Zoology and Genetics from the University of Adelaide, South Australia, in 1979
  • an Honours degree in Genetics, also from the University of Adelaide, in 1981
  • his Doctorate in the Department of Zoology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, in 1994.

During his undergraduate career he carried out extensive field conservation research on various endangered Australian birds. He later travelled widely in South America.

His doctoral thesis was entitled A molecular approach to species diversity and evolution in eastern Australian rainforest birds.

He undertook postdoctoral research at the Unversidad de la Republica in Uruguay from 1994-97.

His postdoctoral research topic was entitled: Phylogeny, evolution of migration and population structure in South American migratory shorebirds.


Dr Joseph has received a number of grants and scholarships, including grants from the:

  • National Science Foundation
  • Australian Government Department of the Arts, Environment and Sport
  • Land and Water Australia.

His achievements have also included scientific editing, publishing, reviewing journal articles and books, and academic teaching.

Find out more about the Australian National Wildlife Collection.