AUT Lab for Cephalopod Ecology and Systematics (ALCES)

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, 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.

In 2020, we also examined the largest known specimen of Taningia fimbria (a species recently described by ALCES alumnus Dr Jesse Kelly) and have several resulting projects underway.


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 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, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in addition to her work at AUT..  She has participated in documentaries and dived in submersibles to depths of 1000m in the Antarctic to observe deep-sea cephalopods, resulting in the 2017/2019 documentary film Deep Ocean: Giants of the Antarctic Deep. Her current research interests include systematics, ecology, biodiversity, and vision, primarily of deep-sea squids.

Current members and projects of ALCES include:

  • Dr Heather Braid (lecturer), whose research focuses on integrative taxonomy (combining molecular and morphological characters) to understand cephalopod biodiversity and ecology
  • Ryan Howard (PhD candidate, completing in 2023): Retinal anatomy of deep-sea squids
  • Jaever Santos (MScRes student): Diversity of the ‘bottletail squid’ genus Sepioloidea in New Zealand waters
  • Samantha Patterson (MSc student): Novel methods for mapping the habitat and distribution of a coastal octopus species, Octopus tetricus
  • Laura McBride (international MSc student): Diet of the warty hooked squid Moroteuthopsis ingens on the Chatham Rise
  • Tristan Strange (international MSc student): Unravelling the Onykiarobsoni’ species complex in New Zealand waters

Completed projects include:

We welcome enquiries about undergraduate and postgraduate project availability in our lab, and we can sometimes accommodate interns (unpaid).

ALCES lab members examine a giant squid
ALCES lab members examine a giant squid (Architetuthis dux) at the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research, Ltd (NIWA). © D. Allen / NIWA (2018)
Chiroteuthis calyx, a deep-sea squid
Chiroteuthis calyx, a deep-sea squid from the Monterey Canyon. © K. Bolstad (2014)
ALCES lab members examining a colossal squid
ALCES lab members examining a colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. © Museum of New Zealand (2014)
Japetella, a gelatinous deep-sea octopus
Japetella, a gelatinous deep-sea octopus, from the Monterey Canyon. © K. Bolstad (2015)
ALCES lab members
ALCES lab members visiting cephalopod collections at the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research, Ltd (NIWA).

Find us online

Happy squidding!

Contact us

Kat Bolstad
Phone: +64 9 921-9999 x6590
WS Level 5, AUT City Campus, 34 St Paul Street, Auckland City, Auckland 1010, New Zealand

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