Diversity of Fishes
Profile: Dr. Adriana Aquino
Dr. Aquino
Dr. Aquino in her lab
at the American
Museum of Natural History.

Adriana Aquino is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Ichthyology Department at the American Museum of Natural History whose work focuses on the systematics of catfishes. Her favorite aspect of research is the study of morphology: the study of the structure and form of living organisms. Adriana studies patterns of variation in fish in a quest to understand the complexity of life, or at least to grasp how complex life can be!

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Adriana moved with her family to Tucuman in northern Argentina when she was very young. The subject of her thesis work for her first degree, her Licenciatura, was the trophic ecology of fishes. The research for her thesis provided Adriana with her first scientific experience. She traveled to the same dam every two months over a period of two years to collect specimens. Adriana will never forget the experience of sitting in a little boat under the stars on frozen nights, checking the nets and asking herself, "What on Earth am I doing here?" Back in the lab, she processed the results of her fieldwork. She analyzed hundreds of fish stomachs - literally hundreds - and ran a statistical analysis on her data. The conclusion Adriana reached was that these fishes had a very flexible diet: insects, plants, plankton, and other fishes. They would eat anything available to them.

Living in New York City on fellowships, as Adriana does, is no mean task. Her financial situation is insecure - fellowships are only good for one or two years at a time. As soon as she is awarded one fellowship, she almost immediately has to start thinking about her next fellowship or job application. There is tremendous pressure to publish; the academic world is very competitive, and a good publication record is a must. And, of course, she works long hours at her own research. Never mind the challenge of trying to answer the great existential questions such as, Why am I here? What's the relevance of my work? How can I pretend to understand the world when I can barely understand myself? All this on an annual stipend of $12,000. A tough prospect for a woman whose major addictions include concerts, the opera, and books. Ever the optimist, Adriana is considering writing a book about how to survive in Manhattan with almost no money at all.