Maria Abate

Research Program:

Team Cichlid Research Group


Research Profile:

Jessica Giannetto, a champion at the microscope.


Research Project:

Recognition of heterospecific anti-predator odor signals and the consequent brain development in juvenile Nicaraguan cichlids


Based on previous research, it is known that freshwater Nicaraguan cichlids can detect alarm cue from other members of its own species; in other words, conspecific alarm cue. However, the question arises whether or not the fish can utilize alarm cues from other species. The research I conducted helped to draw conclusions on this topic.


My experience with Team Cichlid has been great. I started volunteering in the lab as a sophomore and am now going into my 3rd year.   Prof. Abate has been my mentor and friend for these 3 years. As an undergraduate, especially a sophomore, it was difficult to find a position in a lab doing research. I heard about Team Cichlid through my marine biology class and decided to get involved. I started volunteering and helping with husbandry. I helped other undergraduates with their research, and eventually had the opportunity to work on my own project. After discussing my interests with Professor Abate, we decided that I would focus on the neurological development of Nicaraguan cichlids. The fish were exposed to alarm cue over the summer by other members of Team Cichlid, and then I jumped in to do dissections, measurements, and analyzed data. I could not have done my work without the constant help of Prof. Abate and the other undergraduate members of the team.



Current Members of Team Cichlid:


                              Robert “Will” Abdu (bottom right)

                              Maggie Buttlar

                              Dan Crawford

                              Victoria Gau

                              Zackary Gersten

                              Jessica Giannetto

                              Hannah Harvey

                              Jaho King (bottom center)

                              Laura Le (top and bottom left)

                                                                         Conor McManus




Team Cichlid at EEEF in BU Today.









Team Cichlid Conference Papers and Undergraduate Grants


Some Boston University Team Cichlid Alumnae:


07 team cichlid grad photo

Rear: Hung Pham, Andrew Eng, Kristen Vollrath,

Front: Elise Magarian, Nancy Lee



Andrew Eng (CAS BIO 2007) currently is a research technician in the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the Department of Neurosurgery, University of Pennsylvania.

I worked as part of Team Cichlid from summer of 2006 to summer of 2007, with two semesters of directed undergrad research.  Team Cichlid was a unique experience because we worked very closely with each other (being a small group) and worked very closely with Professor Abate.  It was my first foray into scientific research, and I learned about many other (but still fundamental, vital) aspects of research beyond just conducting experiments - grant writing, data interpretation and presentation, teamwork, coping with setbacks, and being [obsessively] dedicated to and excited about science. If the experience had been any different, it would be difficult to imagine that I would be where I am now, seriously considering research as a career.



Kristen Vollrath (CAS BIO 2007)


Currently, I am a graduate student at San Francisco State University and conduct my research at the California Academy of Sciences (a natural history museum). My research is on the origin of sea urchins and creating a species level phylogeny focusing on the earliest (fossil) echinoids. My work in the cichlid lab was immensely helpful for preparing me for graduate school in many ways. Although I am not currently working on animal behavior, the skills I learned through the cichlid lab  (hard work, independent thinking, scientific writing, statistics, etc) and my experience there, have not only helped me get into graduate school, but succeed as a scientist.



Hung Pham (CAS BIO 2007) worked as a Research Assistant at Phylonix Inc. in Cambridge, MA after graduation.


My time being on the cichlid team had been an enriching part of my research experiences. I have learned a lot about olfaction and its importance in convict cichlids. The most important thing about being on the team is the connections and student and professor relationship. This also helped increase my overall experience at Boston University.



Nancy Lee (CAS BIO 2007) works as a Research Assistant at the Brigham and Womens Hospital in Boston.  Nancy stills sends us tips on where to find cichlids from local aquarists.  She will be attending UMASS Medical School.


Elise Magarian (CAS BIO 2007) works as a Research Assistant at the Boston Children’s Hospital. Elise presented her cichlid research at local conferences after graduation.  She will be attending a graduate program in nursing.



Craig O’Connell (CAS BIO 2005) is a graduate student at Coastal Carolina University studying sharks and ways to help conserve them. When Craig was a junior at Boston University, he began the cichlid colony to study their parental behavior. He did not know at the time that he would be the first member of Team Cichlid!



More Team Cichlid profiles coming soon…….




Teaching and Curriculum Development

Research Interests and Collaborations

Undergraduate Research Program:  Research

EEEF Conference

Lab News



Send an email to Maria Abate