AUT Lab for Cephalopod Ecology & Systematics - ALCES

ALCES Overview

Our main research interest is the great diversity of cephalopods—mostly squid—that live in New Zealand waters. Our squid and octopus species comprise one of the highest cephalopod diversities in the world, and we find new taxa here on a regular basis. We study the diversity and ecology of these beautiful and fascinating animals, from the very smallest 'fire' squids (family Pyroteuthidae) up to the giant and colossal squids. Through projects focusing on systematics, genetics, trophic interactions, and vision, especially in deep-sea squids, we seek to better understand these unique animals' biology and their roles in New Zealand's marine ecosystems.

Giant and colossal squid research and events

Some of our higher-profile projects involve the largest known cephalopod species: the giant squid (Architeuthis dux) and the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni). In 2014, ALCES members participated in two public webcast events focusing on these animals—a dissection of three Architeuthis specimens on site at AUT in June, and an examination of the most recent colossal squid specimen to arrive at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, as part of the Museum’s Science Live series.  Samples collected during these events are forming the basis of more than a dozen collaborative projects by lab members and international colleagues, investigating these animals’ biology and ecology.


New Zealand waters host an extraordinary diversity of cephalopod species, and many of our ongoing projects aim to clarify our local species composition and their role within Southern Ocean ecosystems.  We are currently investigating the systematics (local and global) of a number of deep-sea oegopsid squid families, many of which include local representatives that are new to science.  Our biodiversity research is supported by the excellent collections and ongoing sampling initiatives of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Ltd (NIWA).

ALCES Lab Members

Squid science at AUT began with Dr Steve O’Shea, who first captured paralarval (baby) giant squid and participated in the expedition that obtained the first in-situ footage of live adult giant squid off Japan in 2012.  Steve has now retired to France and the lab is run by Dr Kat Bolstad, a deep-sea squid biologist originally from the USA.  Kat has conducted research at the Smithsonian Institution, the New England Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, in addition to her work at AUT.  Her current research interests include systematics, ecology, biodiversity, and vision, primarily of deep-sea squids. 

Current postgraduate members and projects of ALCES include:
  • Jesse Kelly (PhD candidate): Systematics of the squid family Octopoteuthidae 
  • Heather Braid (PhD candidate): Population genetics of New Zealand arrow squid (Nototodarus spp.)
  • Aaron Boyd Evans (PhD candidate): Systematics of the squid family Cranchiidae in the Pacific Ocean
  • Tyler Northern (MSc student, University of Otago): Potential impacts of ocean acidification on cephalopods
  • Occasional interns and undergraduates
Previous projects include:
  • Heather Braid (Master’s thesis, 2013): Systematics of the family Mastigoteuthidae in New Zealand waters
  • Aaron Boyd Evans (Master’s thesis, 2013): Ecology and ontogeny of the cranchiid squid Teuthowenia pellucida in New Zealand waters 
  • Jessica Kniller (Undergraduate research project, 2013): Light response in the eyes of deep-sea gonatid squids
  • Kat Bolstad (PhD thesis, 2008/Zootaxa monograph, 2010): Global systematic revision of the squid family Onychoteuthidae
  • Alejandra Garcia (Master’s thesis, 2010): Comparative study of the morphology and anatomy of octopuses of the family Octopodidae
  • Rebecca Mensch (Master’s thesis, 2010): A systematic review of the squid genus Chiroteuthis in New Zealand waters
  • Jens Horstkotte (Diploma thesis for the University of Kiel  [Master’s equivalent], 2008): The systematics and ecological role of Histioteuthis in New Zealand waters

We welcome enquiries about undergraduate and postgraduate project availability in our lab, and we can sometimes accommodate interns (unpaid) during the second half of the calendar year (July–December).

Contact us:

Kat Bolstad
Phone: +64 9 921-9999 x6590
WZ Level 5, AUT City Campus, 34 St Paul Street, Auckland City, Auckland 1010, New Zealand
You can also find us on Twitter, and on The Octopus News Magazine Online, a website for cephalopod scientist and enthusiasts from all walks of life.  Happy squidding!

Last updated: 15-Feb-2018 1.52pm

The information on this page was correct at time of publication. For a comprehensive overview of AUT qualifications, please refer to the Academic Calendar.