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Commencement 2013: Wildlife research at URI helped Westerly resident narrow career goals

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Former Navy aerographer’s mate turns to wildlife genetics

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 2, 2013 – Westerly resident Amy Battocletti took an atypical route to the University of Rhode Island, serving first for seven years in the U.S. Navy as an aerographer’s mate, gathering weather data and forecasting atmospheric and oceanographic conditions for aviators, submariners and others.

But she always had in mind a desire to go to college to become a conservation biologist. That desire was reinforced when she earned a Letter of Commendation from a rear admiral for her work to mitigate the effects of Navy sonar on marine mammals during an exercise while stationed at 6th Fleet Command in Naples, Italy.

Battocletti will graduate from URI in May as one of the top students studying marine biology and wildlife conservation biology.

“I loved the structure and organization of the military, but I always planned to leave the Navy and go back to school to study biology,” she said. “I’m very passionate about wildlife. The Earth is a beautiful place, and it’s something we need to value and protect.”

A graduate of North Attleboro High School who also lived in Louisiana and New Jersey during her childhood, Battocletti earned top grades at URI while also conducting a wide variety of research and participating in volunteer activities.

For instance, she travelled to India in 2010 with Professor Tom Husband and fellow undergraduates to study the diversity of mammals found on coffee farms, using several varieties of traps and cameras to create an inventory of squirrels, mice, shrews and other small mammals living there. The research aided an international effort to create a biodiversity certification program that farmers could use to market products grown using eco-friendly methods.

Battocletti also spent three winter seasons as a field volunteer for the New England Cottontail Project, searching for evidence of the rare rabbit in Rhode Island.

Her latest project involves DNA fingerprinting of a common type of seaweed found in Greenwich Bay to learn about its reproductive strategy during the formation of algal blooms. These blooms can have a large impact on economic activities in coastal areas and cause hypoxic conditions that harm marine life.

“We are trying to determine the predominant life cycle stage and reproductive strategy occurring during bloom formation,” Battocletti said.
The project has required the URI student to collect seaweed samples during the summer months, learn molecular techniques, and conduct microsatellite marker analysis on her samples in Professor Carol Thornber’s lab.

“These projects really helped me narrow down what I want to do with my career,” said Battocletti, who has also volunteered at Mystic Aquarium, Save the Bay and worked at the URI Academic Enhancement Center. “When I first came to URI I knew I wanted to work in conservation, but I didn’t know what aspect. Now I’ve found my niche. I’m going to study conservation genetics.”

After graduation on May 19, she will enroll at Georgetown University, where she will pursue a doctorate in biology studying ecological and conservation genetics. “I’m not sure yet what I’ll be doing after grad school, but I want to be doing research that is directly related to conservation issues,” she added. “I want to help find solutions to problems affecting wildlife populations. Right now, though, I just don’t know where I’ll be doing it.”

Pictured above
URI student Amy Battocletti (left) conducts wildlife research in India with Professor Thomas Husband to learn about the diversity of mammals living on coffee farms. Photo courtesy of Amy Battocletti.