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Catherine Schaeff

Associate Professor Department of Biology

Dr. Schaeff's training is in behavior and evolutionary biology. Her research interests include behavior, conservation biology, molecular ecology and most recently, human sexual identity – examining the biological foundations of human gender and sexual orientation. There are data that suggest that some people who identify as trans or transgender and who receive sex hormones as part of their transition may experience a shift in their patterns of attraction, a.k.a. sexual orientation, and/or their gender identities. To social scientists, gender is primarily a social construct, connected to an individual’s sex or patterns of sexual attraction mostly through socially constructed links. To natural scientists, it is partially that and also partially a flexible behavioral trait that evolved because it facilitated obtaining high quality mates and maximizing one’s reproductive success. Investigating whether, and if so how, sex hormones affect sexual identity (gender and sexual orientation) is important both for enhancing our understanding of sexual identity and because it will provide information and insights for transitioning individuals and the practitioners who support them. This work incorporates biological, psychological, and sociological theories and methodologies. Please contact Dr. Cathy Schaeff if you are interested in helping with this research. More information at:; Note: if you are interested in funded summer research please contact me ASAP - deadline for summer scholarships is Feb 17


PhD, Conservation Biology and Population Genetics, Queen’s University, Canada MS, Behavioral Ecology, University of Ottawa, Canada BSc (H), BSc (H), Animal Behaviour, University of Toronto, Canada

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CAS - Biology
Hurst - 110c
Contact Info
(202) 885-2175 (Office)
(202) 885-2182 (Fax)

Send email to Catherine Schaeff

For the Media
To request an interview for a news story, call AU Communications at 202-885-5950 or submit a request.
See Also
Biology Department


Scholarly, Creative & Professional Activities

Executive Experience

  • (2000-Present) Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Biology, American University
  • (1993-99) Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, American University

Grants and Sponsored Research

  • (2000) Senate Research Award, American University
  • (2000) CAS Mellon Research Award, American University
  • (1997) Pittsburgh Zoo Conservation Fund
  • (1997) Senate Research Award, American University
  • (1995) CAS Mellon Research Award, American University
  • (1995) Senate Research Award, American University
  • (1994) Senate Research Award, American University

Selected Publications

  • Goerlitz, D, Belson M., Urban, J., CM Schaeff. In press. Genetic population structure of Eastern North Pacific gray whales ( Eschrichtius robustus ) on winter breeding grounds in Baja California. Canadian Journal of Zoology.
  • Best, PB, CM Schaeff, D Reeb, PJ Palsboll. In press. Composition and possible function of social groupings of southern right whales in South African waters. Journal of  Behaviour.
  • Best, PB, D Reeb, MB Rew, PJ Palsboll, CM Schaeff. In press. Biopsying southern right whales; their reactions and effects on reproduction. In press. Journal of Wildlife Management.
  • Steeves T, J Darling, CM Schaeff & R Fleischer. 2001 Population structure of gray whales that summer in Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia based on sighting and molecular data. Conservation Genetics 2:379-384.

AU Expert

Area of Expertise:

Genetics, conservation, animal behavior, behavioral ecology, marine mammals, evolution of human mate choice, marine mammal conservation

Additional Information:

Cathy Schaeff's main research interests are conservation biology, molecular ecology, and behavior. She uses molecular DNA techniques in conjunction with behavioral data to investigate gene flow patterns within and between populations (e.g., right whales and gray whales), determine mating strategies (e.g., penguins, right whales), and understand the evolutionary significance of various behaviors (e.g., fostering). She is also conducting a number of studies on fluctuating asymmetry to determine whether morphological asymmetry is a useful tool for assessing population health in endangered species (right whales, manatees, Sable Island ponies) and recently began studying mate choice in gays and lesbians.

Media Relations
To request an interview please call AU Media Relations at 202-885-5950 or submit an interview request form.