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Dates: August 17, 2024 - August 31, 2024
Location: Bocas Research Station, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Organizer: Dr. Rachel Collin STRI, Panama
Registration Fee: $875 (includes room and board). Some need-based fellowships are available.


Dr. Svetlana Maslakova

University of Oregon

Dr. Megan Schwartz

University of Washington

Course description:

The course is aimed at graduate students, post-docs, or professionals who are interested in learning and applying knowledge about the biology, diversity and systematics of a fascinating and ecologically important but understudied phylum of marine invertebrates – the nemerteans (ribbon worms). The students participating in this course will:

  • Learn how to collect nemerteans associated with shallow coral reefs, mangrove fouling communities, and macroalgae of the Bocas del Toro region
  • Learn general biological characteristics of the group, major taxonomic subdivisions, and characters used for species identification and description
  • Learn to collect and identify planktonic larvae of nemerteans
  • Learn to preserve larval and adult nemerteans for subsequent morphological and molecular studies

Nemerteans are ubiquitous in marine communities worldwide; they are common and diverse, with ~1300 described species, ranging in length from a few millimeters to several meters (one species is officially the longest animal on Earth). Most are free-living predators, that attack and subdue their prey using an eversible proboscis and an impressive array of toxins. Some are parasites or egg predators of other marine invertebrates, including many commercially fished species of crustaceans. Nemertean larvae are very diverse and are commonly present in the plankton. Yet these beautiful and fascinating worms remain largely ignored even by invertebrate zoologists, in part because of their cryptic habits (many are nocturnal, and, in general, they are hard to find unless you know how to look), presence of numerous cryptic species (morphologically indistinguishable, but genetically distinct), and also because of the inherent difficulties associated with preservation and identification of soft-bodied organisms. The nemertean fauna of Bocas del Toro, Panama is very poorly known. Some 16 species are reported in the published literature (with many undescribed species), but recent sampling and DNA-barcoding suggests that the actual diversity is at least five times that number. This likely reflects the amount of undescribed diversity for this phylum worldwide.

This course will engage students in the real work of collecting, identifying and describing nemerteans. The course will last 10 days, with the first five days dedicated to collecting and learning about nemertean biology and the techniques to identify, preserve and characterize nemertean species (both in their larval and adult forms). Our time will be divided between field trips, lectures and laboratory exercises. Second half of the course will be dedicated to individual research projects (e.g. producing formal descriptions of local undescribed species, studying the embryonic and larval development, feeding habits or other aspects of biology, according to student interests). The course will conclude with student presentations of their research projects. For more information on nemerteans see:

Application: Please e-mail your CV, 1 letter of recommendation and a 1-2 page statement explaining your background and reasons for taking the course, to before January 30th, 2024. To be considered for a need-based fellowship, applicants should send a description of their need, their efforts to obtain funding from other available sources, and a travel budget.

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) through an award titled “Collaborative Research: ARTS: Understanding Tropical Invertebrate Diversity Through Integrative Revisionary Systematics and Training” (DEB-1856504). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.