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Dates: July 11, 2022 - July 29, 2022
Location: Bocas Research Station, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Organizer: Dr. Rachel Collin STRI, Panama
Registration Fee: $995


Steven Haddock

Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Otto M. P. Oliveira

Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the Federal University of ABC in Brazil

Erik V. Thuesen

Ph.D., is a Member of the Faculty in Zoology at the Evergreen State College in Washington, USA

Maria Pia Miglietta

Texas A&M University - Galveston, USA

Dr. Rachel Collin

STRI, Panama

Course description:

This course is intended for graduate students, post-docs, or professionals who are interested in learning and applying knowledge about the taxonomy, evolution, and ecology of ctenophores, Medusozoa and other gelatinous zooplankton.

The students participating in this course will achieve the following:

1. learn to describe and identify ctenophores and pelagic cnidarians, focusing on the most common species living in the Bocas del Toro region;
2. learn general biological and ecological characteristics of other gelatinous groups;
3. gain hands-on ecological and taxonomic experience with tropical ctenophores and medusae;
4. learn fundamental sampling and survey techniques; and
5. learn how to conduct physiological experiments with fragile gelatinous organisms.

This course seeks to give the participants the necessary tools to continue studies on the taxonomy, systematics, ecology, and/or evolution of ctenophores and medusozoa. This edition of the course will also include discussions of the origins of Metazoa, and the relative phylogenetic placements of sponges, cnidarians, and ctenophores. The course will last 21 days, with the first week mostly dedicated to taxonomic training. During the second week, students will study ecological and physiological aspects of gelatinous zooplankton with special attention to techniques used to work with these very fragile animals. During the last week of the course, students will carry out a focused research project and present their results.

Daily activities will include morning and afternoon lectures, fieldwork, laboratory work, and evening seminars or talks.

Application: This course is directed towards advanced graduate students, post-docs, and young investigators, and will be conducted in English. 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 31, 2022. 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. For more information see:

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation’s Office of International Science & Engineering (OISE) through an award titled “IRES Track II: International Training to Understand the Relationships of Non-Bilaterian Animals” (OISE-1828949). 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.


Alexandra De León

My name is Alexandra de León, I’m from Panama City and I recently got my undergrad in Marine Biology from the International Maritime University of Panama. Throughout my undergrad, I have had the opportunity to participate in research projects in the Caribbean and the Pacific, through which I have been able to develop fieldwork skills in diverse marine ecosystems. I also got my PADI advanced, enriched air and rescue diver certifications. I had the opportunity to start working on my thesis project at the Collin Lab at NAOS STRI. My thesis was focused on the holoplanktonic gastropods in the Bay of Panama. Currently, I am a fellow at STRI developing a research project named “Documenting seasonal patterns in diversity of hydromedusae (Cnidaria: Hydrozoa) in the coastal waters of the Bay of Panama.” With this project I will analyze the diversity of hydromedusae in the Bay of Panama, a highly productive area related to stationary coastal upwelling events that occur during the dry season, applying molecular barcoding techniques.

Anabelle Klovrza

University of Sao Paulo, Brazil
Hello! My name is Anabelle Klovrza, I am 27 years old and I have a bachelor's degree in biosciences from the University of São Paulo, in Brazil. When I was an undergraduate student, I studied the morphology of internal cusps of individuals from different locations, such as Brazil, Cuba, etc. In this work, my supervisor and I concluded that the specimens found in Cuba and Brazil are Linuche unguiculata. The samples from the Pacific, comprise 3 different species: Linuche sp. (with stolonal colony and internal cusps similar to the Atlantic species); Nausithoe racemosa (with a cauliflower colony and absence of cusps); and Stephanoscyphistoma allmani(with verticil colony and cusps with irregular projections). Nowadays I am a master's student, and in my master thesis, I study how climate changes, especially temperature and food availability, can influence the asexual reproduction of polyps of four species of Cnidaria: Aurelia coerulea, Cotylorhiza tuberculata, Lychnorhiza lucerna, and Sanderia malayensis. These four species are known for causing damage to human activities when they bloom, but there aren't many studies that take the polyps as the main object of study. That is why I believe that with my work we will be able to know more about the blooms of medusae differently than we are used to: by analyzing and observing the patterns of polyps, which are a significant stage of the cnidarian's life cycle, so we can understand more the patterns of the medusae afterward.

Bridget Vincent

University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
I am a Ph.D. student in the Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I am interested in how constraints direct the evolution of complex traits. Specifically, I am studying the evolution of light organs across cephalopods. I am currently using phylogenetics and ancestral state reconstruction to estimate how many times cephalopod light organs and their individual tissues have evolved. In collaboration with the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum Invertebrate Zoology department, I plan to use microscopy to explore how these structures evolved. I am excited to take this course and improve my skills in handling gelatinous animals and scientific illustration so that I can better assist in specimen identification at the museum.

Emily Lau

University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
I am a PhD student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. For my thesis, I am investigating the convergent evolution of bioluminescence in luminous toadfishes and ostracods, and applying these findings to generate new tools for biological imaging. I am currently developing a cross-disciplinary research program that integrates evolutionary biology with biochemistry and bioengineering to explore the diversity of bioluminescent organisms, investigate long standing questions in evolutionary biology, and develop new biotechnologies. I am looking forward to developing a skillset for collecting and studying gelatinous marine organisms, as well as learning the systematic and taxonomic framework necessary for pursuing questions on the function, evolution, and biochemistry of bioluminescence.

Jessie Masterman

Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, USA
I am a PhD student at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB) at the University of Oregon, USA. I am interested in exploring the importance of gelatinous zooplankton in food webs of the pelagic realm. My current research focuses in particular on the trophic role of the ctenophore Pleurobrachia bachei in the northern California Current. I use a variety of methods to characterize these trophic links, including measuring gut contents, stable isotopes, and fatty acids of various zooplankton taxa. Through this course, I hope to gain a better understanding of the evolutionary and ecological relationships among the gelatinous zooplankton, which will provide a much needed framework to better evaluate the results of my own research.

Juliana Giraldo

Texas A&M University - Galveston, USA
Juliana is originally from Colombia. She graduated from the University of West Florida with a B.S. in Marine Biology. After her undergrad studies, she did her master’s degree in the Janosik lab Fall 2021. Her project focused on using environmental DNA to inventory fish communities in the Gulf of Mexico. She is currently a first year PhD student at Texas A&M University in Galveston in the Miglietta Lab. Her project will focus on understanding how gene expression influences two Turritopsis species with different life cycles (T. dohrnii, able to revert the life cycle (from medusa to polyp), and T. sp. 1, unable to do it).

Kaden Muffett

Texas A&M University - Galveston, USA
Kaden Muffett is a PhD candidate at Texas A&M Galveston focussing on development and microbial ecology of the genus Cassiopea.

Lara Beckmann

University of Stockholm, Sweden
Last year I completed my MSc in Biodiversity and Systematics and have spent the past two years at the University of Bergen in Norway, mainly focusing on hydrozoan taxonomy. I have worked with hydromedusae and polyps, primarily using an integrative approach to study species diversity and uncover missing life stages. My main interest lies in the diversity and ecology of cnidarians, and I will soon continue with a PhD program in this topic at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Marta Mammone

University of Salento, Italy
I’m a PhD candidate at the University of Salento, Italy. My research focuses on the upside-down jellyfish Cassiopea andromeda, which is an alien species in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a symbiotic and thus a mixotrophic jellyfish, found in shallow water habitats. My PhD encompasses a multidisciplinary approach with the ultimate goal of shedding light on the invasive potential of Cassiopea. This approach assesses Cassiopea’s: biology, in terms of gonadal output; ecophysiology, investigating its photosynthetic plasticity; and trophic ecology, understanding its nutritional condition in different environments.

Riyas Abdul

University of Kerala, India
Permit me to introduce myself as a research scholar working for my PhD programme on jellyfish taxonomy and jellyfish blooms of South West coast of India, in the Department of Aquatic Biology & Fisheries, University of Kerala, India under the guidance of Dr A. Biju Kumar. I started my research career with my post-graduate project on taxonomy of jellyfishes along the Kerala coast. Inspired from previous work, I extended my research and started my doctoral research on taxonomy, reproductive biology, lifecycle, biochemistry and the blooming of neritic jellyfishes. I am interested in the ecology, evolution and toxicology of scyphozoan and cubozoans. As the studies on jelly fishes in Indian context are still at its infancy stage, I am trying to clarify the complexity and ambiguity among the species identification of jellyfish with the aid of conventional and molecular approach and probable reason for jellyfish blooms in the coastal waters of Kerala. Through my research I also found that some of the jellyfish are more colorful due to the presence of symbiotic zooxanthellae in its body. Currently I am also studying the ecological genomics of pelagic symbionts. I have more than 9 years of research experience in the field of taxonomy, blooming ecology, toxicology and DNA barcoding and has worked and published on venom proteomics. I already published eight peer-reviewed papers and one book chapter on jellyfish and have established research connections with leading labs in the field, including the lab of Prof Michael Dawson. I am also one of the members of the Aquatic Symbiosis Genomes project funded by the Moore Foundation. I am presented my finding at the 6th International Jellyfish Conference conducted in Cape Town, South Africa during 2019.

Sara Siwiecki

Yale University, USA
I’m a PhD candidate in Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry at Yale. My research interests revolve around the biophysics and biochemistry of marine biomaterials - focusing on how molecular interactions can lead to impressive macroscopic materials. I first became interested in fascinating marine biomaterials during my undergraduate degree at Chapman University in California where I worked on the biophysics of hagfish slime formation. Then, I was introduced to ctenophores at Yale in Alison Sweeney’s lab and fell in love with these squishy animals. Ctenophores are one of our most distant animal relatives and are quite different from even their closest relatives, such as sponges or cnidarians. The motivating question of my PhD project is: how have animals developed such diverse body forms and functions? Most bulk materials in animals are made of large amounts of extracellular material, so my project uses ctenophore mesoglea, which is made of almost entirely bulk extracellular matrix material and forms most of the ctenophore body, to investigate the evolution of bulk extracellular materials in animals. I am determining the biochemical content and material behavior of different species of ctenophore mesoglea to compare to true jellies and other bulk animal materials, such as mucus, hair, or skin.

Valentina Cardona

Universidad Latina de Panamá, Panamá
I just graduated from a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology in the Latina University of Panamá. Even though I am not a marine biologist I did my graduation thesis on Gelatinous Zooplankton (GZ) species present in Isla Coiba National Park with the help and guidance of Dr. Edgardo Díaz Ferguson, executive director of COIBA AIP and the scholarship program for thesis students Mar del Sur. The objectives of the project were to see what species were present in the park and my biggest goal was to isolate a mitochondrial sequence specific of each to start a gene library for gelatinous zooplankton in the area. However, due to lack of an available laboratory due to the pandemic, I was not able to do the molecular part of the project. But I did a review study of all the phylum that conform GZ, including Cnidarians, Ctenophores and some species of Urochordata and publish a review paper on the topic, Biology and Study Methods of Gelatinous Zooplankton with an emphasis on research in the East Tropical Pacific, with the help of my tutor Dr. Diaz-Ferguson and two PhD associate scientists of COIBA AIP, Dr. Ernesto Brugnoli from Uruguay and Dr. Alvaro Morales-Ramírez from Costa Rica for the local journal of the University of Panama, Tecnociencia. Gelatinous zoopIankton composition, taxonomy and ecology is a big unknown in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, something that I would like to change, especially because one they are the best indicators of climate change in ocean waters and two all the possible benefits we could gain using them in the food and pharmaceutical industry. With the raising carbon monoxide levels and temperatures, we need to evolve and that includes looking for more sustainable ways to live using an otherwise ignored but extremely important group in the marine trophic chain. My plan is to apply for a master’s degree in marine ecology and after that to get a PhD probably in gelatinous zooplankton or marine virology.