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Dates: July 20, 2010 - August 2, 2010
Location: Bocas del Toro Research Station
Organizer: Dr. Rachel Collin


Dr. Robert Thacker

University of Alabama at Birmingham

Dr. Cristina Diaz

Smithsonian Institution

Course description:

The course is aimed at graduate students, post-docs, or professionals who are interested in learning and applying knowledge about the diversity and ecology of one of the most conspicuous organisms in tropical benthic marine ecosystems. The students participating in this course will:

  • Learn to describe and identify the most common sponges from the mangroves and shallow coral reefs of the Bocas del Toro region Learn general biological and ecological characteristics of the group.
  • Gain hands-on ecological and taxonomic experience with tropical marine sponges.
  • Learn basic ecological survey techniques.
  • Learn how to measure photosynthesis rates of sponge symbionts.

This course seeks to give the participant the necessary tools to continue studies on the taxonomy and /or ecology of sponges. The course will last ten days, with four days dedicated to taxonomic training, including the characteristics and identification of the various sponge orders. Common taxa at Bocas del Toro will be identified to species. Four days will consider the general ecology of sponges, including topics such as feeding, reproduction, competition, chemical ecology, and biogeography. We will conduct surveys of sponges at several field sites near the Bocas Research Station to collect baseline data for conservation and for future studies. The remaining five days will be dedicated to an independent project, and its presentation. Daily activities will include: morning and afternoon lectures, a field trip, lab work, and discussion sections or talks.


Patricia Gomez

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Present day I am focusing on the morphologic variability of Clathria species from the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, besides I am processing the marine sponge biodiversity from this area. Interest at future time will be the Tethya species complex? And differentiate between vicariants species from the Atlantic and Pacific of Mexico like Mycale (Zygomycale) parishi, Placospongia carinata. Almost everything about sponges is of interest for me.

Andia Chaves Fonnegra

NOVA Southeastern University – Oceanographic Center
I am a marine biologist from Colombia, South America, and I have been studding marine sponges since I was undergraduate student. My main focus has been chemical ecology and interactions between excavating sponges and corals. Right now, I am at NOVA Southeastern University doing my doctoral dissertation about reproduction and population genetics of the excavating sponge Cliona delitrix. I am developing and using microsatellite markers to understand the current increase and possible dispersal of this species in the Caribbean Sea. Last year I worked in the Molecular component of the Porifera Tree of Life Project, specifically searching for nuclear genes in a variety of sponge species. Also, as technical work I have been helping to produce spicules and sections slides for the Florida Sponge Guide.

Jan Vicente Raczkowski

University of North Carolina Wilmington
As an undergraduate student at the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras my research focused on elucidating secondary metabolites from the Caribbean sponge Prosuberites laughlini. The fact that many sponges harbor diverse bacterial communities that could be responsible for producing secondary metabolites has geared my attention to their microbial symbionts. More specifically, during my MS at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, I have studied the culturable community of actinomycete bacteria in several Puerto Rican sponges. I have been looking at their distribution, phylogeny, metabolic profiles and species-specificity with their host sponge. In addition to isolating possible pharmaceuticals from new actinomycete phylotypes, my goal is to determine possible ecological roles between bacterial symbionts, their secondary metabolites and their host sponge.

Thiago de Paula

Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Currently, I am a PhD student in Ecology and Evolution at State University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; where I also have a temporary teaching position in Basic Genetics. The sponge world abducted me since 2005, during my undergraduation course. My PhD research focuses on molecular phylogeny of Mycale (Poecilosclerida, Demospongiae) aiming mainly on its subgeneric relationship and character evolution. In addition, it includes the phylogeography of some species of this genus along South America Atlantic coast intending to recover the populational processes among those species. Prior, in my MSc degree, I worked on cryptic diversity of boring sponges of South America, using both molecular and morphologic approaches. My main research interests rely on the evolutionary history of sponges.

Benjamin Mueller

Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
I am a PhD student at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ). After graduating in biology at the University of Rostock I was working as a junior expert in marine biology and aquaculture with the German Development Service (DED) in the Philippines. Currently I am working on the functional role of coral-excavating sponges within the EU-funded FORCE Project (Future of Reefs in a Changing Environment). My research focuses specifically on DOM released by macroalgae and corals as a possible food source of bioeroding sponges. The field work is conducted at CARMABI (Caribbean Research & Management of Biodiversity) in Curacao, Netherland Antilles.

Monica Nunez

Simón Bolivar University
I am from Caracas, Venezuela. I'm a biologist graduated at the Carabobo University, Venezuela. Right now I'm studying master studies of biological sciences in the department of biology at the Simón Bolivar University, Venezuela. I started to study sponges in 2009. My interests in investigation cover different aspects related to Neotropical Sponges (Porifera). In first place, the taxonomy and systematic of sponges interests me, as indispensable tools to know the identity of the species and to establish correctly geographical distribution patterns, data that help to understand, to explain and recognize the variations in the space-temporary diversity of this zoological group, using this information to the conservation of marine areas. As media to materialize these objectives, the species distribution maps interest me, the databases, data processing tools related to the analysis of the biodiversity and the methods for the estimation of the biodiversity applied to the Poriferas. I have interest in other aspects of Porifera such as their use as bioindicators, their diversity in special environments (deep waters), their ecology, and the integral management of biological collections. Currently I'm working as assistant of investigation at the Venezuelan Institute of Investigations Cientificas (IVIC), at the unit of biodiversity (BiodiVEN) in the project called: "Initiative for the first Map of Neotropical Diversity" (NeoMapas).

Magdalena Lukowiak

Institute of Paleobiology Polish Academy of Sciences Warsaw
I am a PhD student at the Institute of Paleobiology Polish Academy of Sciences Warsaw, Poland. My research interests involved first fossil crinoids and their taxonomy. I am also interested in fossil ascidian spicules. Now, I have extended my interests to Eocene sponges from southern Australia. My research is focused on nonlithistid demosponges, their taxonomy, ecology and their evolution. The main aim of my study is the reconstructions of the soft demosponge assemblage based on both, loose spicules and bodily preserved sponges. This will allow me to evaluate changes in taxonomic composition of demosponge fauna from the Eocene to Recent in southern Australia.

Maria Lindstrom

Uppsala University, Sweden
I am a PhD student at Evolutionary Biology Center, Uppsala University. The project of which I am part of is newly started, and concerns the systematics and biodiversity of siliceous sponges, primarily in Swedish and Scandinavian waters. The project aims at getting a more thorough understanding of the biodiversity, speciation and evolution of sponges with focus on the Swedish sponge fauna. The project also aims to assess population sizes and dispersal patterns, as well as the description, characterization, and revision (where needed) of selected Scandinavian demosponge taxa. My background lies in oligochaete systematics, so I am truly a sponge novice. I am looking forward to meeting you and getting nerdy together in July!"

Amber Stubler

Stony Brook University
I am a PhD student at Stony Brook University located in Long Island, NY. My main research focus is looking at the effects of coastal development on neighboring coral reefs in Jamaica, West Indies. Specifically, I am looking at the effects of sedimentation on sponge growth, recruitment, diversity, abundance and size distribution. Since sponges are the main biogenic structure on Jamaican reefs, understanding the affects of coastal development on these organisms is important. In addition to looking at tropical sponges, I am hoping to expand my work with sponges into the temperate waters of New York.

Carla Menegola

Universidade Federal da Bahia
As a researcher at the Federal University of Bahia [UFBA] (Salvador, Bahia, Brazil) since 2005, I have been involved in training undergraduate pupils in Biological Sciences and graduate students of the Master program in Animal Diversity. My academic and professional career was completely focused on sponge systematics: for five years (1991-1996) I devoted myself to the taxonomy of freshwater sponges from Amazon lakes and ponds and to the species of the genus Metania from Congo River and its tributaries. In 1997, I began studying marine sponges of deep waters from the Southern Brazilian coast, which led me to propose a revision of the species of Geodia (Astrophorida) from Western Atlantic and Eastern Pacific as my doctoral thesis (1998-2002). Currently I'm working with sponges from the coast of Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, and with morphological and molecular evaluation of the complex Geodia gibberosa from Brazil and Caribbean. The main reasons in attending this field course are to acquire a better understanding on the diversity of sponges, the connectivity among populations from coastal environments of the western tropical Atlantic, such as mangroves and coral reefs, and the evolution of Geodiidae. This knowledge will be disseminated worldwide through articles, monographs and dissertations from our research team. Finally, I hope to learn ecological techniques that will allow me to develop basic and applied research in this area of science at northeast Brazil.

Melissa DeBiasse

Louisiana State University
I am a PhD candidate at Louisiana State University. I am interested in the processes that influence the origin and maintenance of marine biodiversity in an environment with few obvious isolating barriers. My research focuses on population and speciation genetics of coral reef sponges in the Caribbean.

Ehsan Kayal

Iowa State University
I am a PhD candidate at the Iowa State University. My PhD research focuses on the evolution of mitochondrial genomes in Cnidaria and Calcarea. I use the mitochondrial sequences for phylogenetic reconstructions between and within these taxa. I am also very interested in the taxonomy of Calcarea, a group that has attracted little attention in the past decades.

Liesl Janson

Department of Environmental Affairs South Afric
I am a scientific technician working for the Department of Environmental Affairs, division Oceans & Coasts in South Africa. Our section mainly focuses on research concerning marine biodiversity & conservation issues. For the past two years I have been working with Dr Toufiek Samaai who is only sponge taxonomists within South Africa. Our current focus includes sponge biogeography, biodiversity, systematics and taxonomy. I'm hoping this course will provide me with the skills and knowledge to further my career as a Biodiversity researcher.

Niamh Redmond

Smithsonian Institution Washington DC

Jennifer Grima

Florida Atlantic University

This course is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0829986 to R. W. Thacker, “PorToL – The Porifera Tree of Life Project.” Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.