Maria Abate

Research Interests and Collaborations:


When itís time to reproduce, cloning is much easier than sex. However, sexual reproduction produces diverse offspring that are more likely to survive in changing environments, so itís not surprising that sex is the norm for many groups of organisms. In fishes, almost anything goes when it comes to ways to reproduce and raise young.For example, the wrasses I have studied exhibit sex change from female to male: and the cichlids I study kidnap young from other parents.I conduct research that addresses the biological basis, adaptive significance and community impacts of fish reproduction, parental care and offspring development. I am concerned with ecological and evolutionary consequences of these strategies and their biological basis. Better knowledge about fish reproduction is essential for maintaining fish biodiversity worldwide.


Offspring Development and Parental Care in Neotropical Cichlids:

In convict and Nicaraguan cichlids the male and female care for and defend the young in the nest. Brood parasitism or kidnapping is known to occur between parents and may decrease predation on their own young. I am studying the odors released from the damaged skin of the cichlids which are known as alarm substance since it causes them to seek refuge. In collaboration with Dr. Les Kaufman, I examine whether or not the offspring themselves respond to alarm cues and change their behavioral responses based on the strength of these cues. In addition juvenile cichlids demonstrate morphological plasticity, and most of my research is concerned with whether or not plasticity occurs in a number of traits that could decrease cichlid mobility and dispersal. This research is conducted in the Biology Department and involves my undergraduate research group called Team Cichlid.Team Cichlid is a unique collaboration of undergraduates from different colleges at Boston University composed of volunteers, apprentices, and independent researchers who make a long-term commitment to conducting undergraduate research.Team members regularly present their research at scientific meetings and are successful recipients of Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) Awards that support their research.For more information see the Undergraduate Research Program links below.






Alternate Male Reproductive Tactics of the Black Goby:

Some of my work concerns the genetic basis of female versus male behavior. Do male and female brains have the same gene expression?†† I am using the black goby species that lives in the Venice Lagoon, Italy to address this question in collaboration with Dr. Andrew Gracey at the University of Southern California and Drs. Stefano Malavasi and Patrizia Torricelli from Universitaí Caí Foscari, Venice, Italy.In this fish, large territorial males court females into a burrow to spawn.The male not the female cares for the young until they leave the nest.However, the territorial male faces a constant threat from small males that sneak into the nest to produce and abandon offspring for the territorial male to raise.The sneaker males look and act like females.We are comparing the brain gene activity of the two types of males and the female.





The Ecology of Sex-changing Fishes on Coral Reefs:

My research on coral reefs centers on wrasses that change sex from female to male.I have studied these fishes to determine how gender influences competitive or cooperative interactions with other species. In these species a male must spend time socializing with many females to attract them to mate as well as inhibit them from changing sex. This social constraint forces males to feed less than females and be more particular about what they eat.I have examined the consequences of these sex-specific time budgets on interactions with other species in the community. These species interactions may have especially important implications for the timing and maintenance of sex-change in populations on disturbed reefs.




Recent Presentations at Scientific Meetings:


A comparison of brain gene expression from black goby (Gobius niger) females and males with alternate mating phenotypes.†† Maria Abate, Andrew Gracey, Stefano Malavasi, and Patrizia Torricelli. Integrative and Comparative Biology 2008:48, Supplement. 2009 SICB Conference.


A test for the influence of offspring behavior on parental care in the convict cichlid (Archocentrus nigrofasciatum).Robert Abdu, Maria Abate, and Les Kaufman.Integrative and Comparative Biology 2008:48 (Supplement). 2009 SICB Conference.


Do conspecific and heterospecific alarm substances alter the behavior of group foraging convict cichlids.Vankhanh Laura Le, Maria Abate, Melanie Lontoh, Les Kaufman. Ecological and Evolutionary Ethology of Fishes Conference, Boston University (July 2008).

Sex-specific foraging influences the species interactions of two sex-changing reef fishes. Maria Abate. Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, Winter Meeting (December 2007): Sex Differences. Zoological Society of London, Regentís Park, London, UK.


An experimental removal of a territorial damselfish tests for cross-guild effects on fish habitat use.Maria Abate.Annual Meeting of the Association of the Marine Laboratories of the Caribbean (June 2007), University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, USVI.




Teaching and Curriculum Development

Undergraduate Research Program:People

Undergraduate Research Program:Research

EEEF Conference

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