Abby Pratt, a deep-sea octopus researcher, is one of our four finalists for the Spring 2020 Alumni Association Outstanding Master’s Graduate Award. She will earn a Master’s of Science degree in Biology this week.
After growing up in Poway, California, Abby earned her bachelor’s degree in zoology at Humboldt State University in 2018. She was drawn to our graduate program in Biology because of the opportunity to work with Dr. Scott France in the field of Marine Biology.
While at UL Lafayette, Abby has investigated the diversity and distribution of deep-sea octopuses in the western North Atlantic. These creatures have been understudied, partly due to the sheer difficulty of accessing their remote habitats. She relied upon museum specimens and deep-sea footage collected by remotely operated vehicles for her work.
Abby was able to identify fifteen different species of octopuses in the region. She also gathered data to determine if octopuses prefer certain habitats over others, and how these preferences varied by species. Certain species may prefer hard or soft ground, or particular geological features such as submarine canyons or continental shelves. She then worked to develop a predictive distribution model using habitat and environmental variables. Knowledge of different species’ habitat preferences can in turn bring insight into their life cycle and feeding habits. In addition to providing fundamental knowledge about these little-known but widespread creatures, Abby’s work can guide scientists planning field studies or collection trips.
Abby’s research on “octopod real estate” was featured in reports from the 2020 Ocean Sciences meeting in February.
In addition to her biology graduate studies, Abby proactively worked to learn R and Linux programming, successfully positioning herself to compute statistics and build models. She has also maintained a passion for outreach with involvement in programs at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. and at Del Mar Hills Academy in California.
And it hasn’t been all work and no play while here in Lafayette. Abby is even a member of Acadiana Roller Derby!
Abby will continue her academic career in the Fall at Southern Illinois University where she will be pursuing a PhD in zoology.