Maria Abate

Assistant Professor of Biology
  • Biology
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(617) 521-2657

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About Me

I am originally from Rhode Island where the family quahogging outings and the importance of seafood in our traditional Italian cuisine initially shaped my interest and appreciation for the marine environment. I majored in zoology as an undergraduate and had exciting internships involving different animals that lived on land, including tagging bears in the backcountry of a national park and studying social group behavior of monkeys; still my strong roots and passion for the sea led me to complete a Ph.D. in marine biology. I have been a visiting researcher in different parts of the world including Hawaii, the Caribbean and Venice, Italy and at local academic institutions working on both marine and freshwater fishes. My teaching philosophy is to engage others in discovery of a core background in evolution that emphasizes its importance in understanding the biology of humans and other organisms and its role in maintaining human and environmental health in our world today. I hope to empower students to think more critically about their biological lives as well as help create a more informed public dialogue about policies that affect the health of our environmental resources. As part of my research program in the biology department, I have a laboratory that includes a freshwater fish husbandry program. Mentoring student research is central to my fish studies; and my laboratory is where students with many different career interests, work together to study the "how?" and "why?" of the evolution of fish adaptations.

What I Teach

  • Principles of Zoology (BIOL 218)
  • Marine Biology (BIOL 333)
  • Evolutionary Biology (BIOL 322)

Research/Creative Activities

A concept central to my research is that an individual fish can vary its traits in response to changes in the environment during its lifetime. My laboratory tests for the role that this plasticity plays in fish adaptive responses and resistance to environmental stressors. This research program has implications for environmental science, evolution and biomedicine. For example, by studying these plastic responses of fish under different conditions, we can test why and when a trait should evolve under natural selection. One area of interest is the plasticity of development in response to predators, a significant natural stressor and fear inducer, and how fish adapt their sensory systems to decrease their risk of predation. I also have interest in the cellular mechanisms underlying the fish’s stress response. This is relevant to our understanding of the impact of environmental degradation on fish populations. In addition, our close evolutionary relationship with fish enables their being a model for informing us about the impact of stressors on human health. A variety of techniques including behavioral assays and video techniques, microscopy techniques, and bioinformatics are used to explore these questions in fish we raise in my freshwater husbandry program. The fish facility that supports our research also provides an opportunity to obtain hands-on experience in aquatic husbandry of freshwater fishes.