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Dates: June 20, 2017 - July 4, 2017
Location: Bocas Research Station, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Organizer: Dr. Rachel Collin
Registration Fee: $850 (includes room and board, STRI registration fee, etc.). Some need-based fellowships are available


Rosana Rocha

Universidade Federal do Paraná, Brasil

Gretchen Lambert

University of Washington Friday Harbor Laboratories

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 tunicates living on 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 tunicates

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 15th, 2017. Limit 12 students. 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


Ada Hernández

Instituto de ciencias del mar y limnologia, UNAM, Mexico
I am a student at the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology, UNAM-Mazatlan. I am currently undertaking an integrative study through the combined use of morphological characteristics and molecular markers for the taxonomic identification of the species and the establishment of their systematic position within the group of ascidians associated with coral reefs of the mexican Pacific with the purpose of generate more robust hypotheses about the boundaries between species, and their phylogenetic relationships.

Alexander Fodor

Friday Harbor Laboratories, USA
I am a fourth-year PhD student in Dr. Billie J. Swalla’s lab at the University of Washington. I split my time between the Seattle campus of UW and Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island. I am very interested in the interplay of evolution and development and how molecular evolution can result in modifications to morphology. I am currently searching for the genetic and developmental mechanisms responsible for larval tail loss in the Molgulid family of ascidians. I am using two sister species the tailed Molgula oculata and the tailless Molgula occulta (and the hybrids made between the two species) as my model system to investigate changes in gene expression that may be responsible for tail loss.

Anabela Taverna

Instituto de Diversidad y Ecología Animal, CONICET-UNC, Argentina
I am a PhD student in biological sciences at the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Argentina. My work focuses in ascidian biodiversity of the Argentine Sea and Southeast Pacific. My thesis includes morphological and molecular taxonomy for identification of specimens, biogeographical analyses and detection of exotic species.

Clara Giachetti

I am a third-year PhD student and I work with fouling communities of Puerto Madryn port (Patagonia, Argentina), where ascidians are one of the most common invasive taxa. I am using Ascidiella aspersa and Ciona spp. as focal species to test predation and competition hypothesis in marine bioinvasions. I have been studying the potential predators and their effects over invasive ascidians juveniles and adults, particularly during the colonization process of artificial structures. For these purposes, I have performed experiments in the port and under controlled conditions in the aquarium. In future experiments, I will also address the differences in reproductive cycles and recruitment timing of these invasive ascidians.

Diana Lopez

Temple University, USA
I am a second year PhD student in the Biology department at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, however I am originally from Bogota-Colombia. My research interests include exploring a latitudinal gradient of functional diversity on sessile marine invertebrate communities, and the effect of predation on trait distributions across latitudes to infer different community assembly processes. I am also interested in studying the role of metabolism controlling biotic interactions using Nudibranchs and tunicates as model systems.I am interested in learning more about morphological and ecological traits of sessile marine invertebrates, including tunicates, to be able to better quantify functional traits of these organisms. I am also a team member of the BioVision project, a large study aimed to demonstrate how species interactions influence ecological communities from the tropics to the arctic, using sessile marine invertebrates as model systems.

Isadora Santos de Abreu

Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I am a PhD student at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) in Brazil and I study the amazing neuroregenerative ability of ascidians - the most interesting animal group in the world! My goal is to investigate the involvement of blood cells in their regeneration.

Israel Caicedo

INVEMAR - Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras 'José Benito Vives de Andreis', Colombia.
One of the gaps in knowledge about the marine biodiversity of Colombia, is the taxonomic identification of ascidians, which are common in many coastal marine ecosystems. My main interest is to contribute greatly to the collection and identification of ascidians in the colombian caribbean coast.

Jhimli Mondal

Zoological Survey of India, Andaman and Nicobar Regional Centre, India
I am a Senior Research Fellow in Zoological Survey of India, which is sub-ordinate office of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India since 2013. Presently pursuing a doctoral degree research on reef associated Ascidians of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Though ascidians are commonly found in coastal and marine ecosystem of India, till date they are considered as taxonomically least explored animals in Indian context as very limited studies are available on them. Hence, task of undertaking taxonomic research of ascidians especially in coral reef ecosystem has been tempted me to prepare the inventory on these sessile animal. I am confident that proposed training on tunicates can enrich my knowledge to take further step ahead on it.

Joyce Ana Teixeira

Universidade Federal do Paraná, Brazil
My name is Joyce Ana Teixeira and I'm a masters student from Universidade Federal do Paraná - Brazil. I'm interested about taxonomy and ascidians helped me to realize myself on this science field. My studies with ascidians started on my undergraduate program with samples from Araçá Bay, a small bay besides the São Sebastião Harbour (São Paulo state). This work was a part of the 'Biota Araçá' project, a big collaborative work to know the biodiversity of this place, endangered by the harbour enlargement plans. During my undergraduate time I also started to collaborate with the photo edition for the Tunicata Glossary (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Website). The other project that I started at my undergraduate is now my masters project. Thus study tries to unravel the cryptical species in the Diplosoma listerianum complex, using morphological and molecular information from samples collected at multiple points in the Brazilian coastline.

Kevin Ma

Québec-Océan; Université Laval, Canada
Kevin is a PhD Candidate at Université Laval with interests in taxonomy, ecology, and patterns of biological invasions of marine invertebrates (e.g., ascidians, bryozoans, decapods). His doctoral research is focused on coastal monitoring and early detection of marine invasive species by studying their larval ecology, such as larval dispersal patterns, phenology of sexual reproduction, and larval settlement behaviour. Previously, his MSc research at Memorial University of Newfoundland was on the geographic distribution of native and invasive ascidians in eastern Canada, and the population dynamics of an invasive ascidians in the northern limits of its invaded range in eastern North America.

Marie Nydam

Centre College, Danville, KY, USA
I am an Assistant Professor of Biology at Centre College in Danville, KY, USA. I study reproductive isolation and speciation in the solitary ascidian genus Ciona, as well as the evolution of allorecognition in the colonial ascidian Botryllus schlosseri. I am developing new research areas in phylogenomics of botryllid ascidians and phylogeography of ascidians in Florida.

Rachel Weinberg

San Francisco State University, USA
I am an M.S. Candidate at San Francisco State University studying fusion outcomes in the invasive colonial tunicate Didemnum vexillum. In my research I use a combination of field and molecular methods to study evolution, systematics, and ecology, particularly in colonial invertebrates. I am particularly fascinated by the evolution of self/non self-recognition, and its potential to shape the dynamics and distribution of invasive species. I completed my Bachelor's of Science in Marine Biology at San Francisco State University.

Sandra Paiva

Universidade Federal do Paraná, Brazil
I´m an enthusiast person about ascidians. During my undergraduate program, I studied ascidians from the Northeast Brazil, especially specimens from the Rocas Atoll, the only Atoll of South Atlantic, and I have the opportunity to describe some new species. In my master program, I studied Didemnidae from the French Frigate Shoals, an important Island from Hawaii archipelago. Currently, I´m a second year Ph.D. student at Universidade Federal do Paraná and my thesis research focuses on Eudistoma biodiversity and the main goal of this study is to use “integrative taxonomy”, combining traditional morphological taxonomy and molecular approach, to better define species delimitation within the genus and better understand their phylogenetic relationships.

Tal Gordon

Tel-Aviv University, Israel
I am on my first-year of Ph.D. studies at the faculty of Life Science in Tel Aviv University, Israel. My research focuses on the regeneration abilities of solitary ascidian species in the Red Sea. My interest in ascidians began during my undergraduate research project and continued to my M.Sc studies, where I focused on the biology and ecology of the ascidians in the Red Sea. My overall goal is to establish a novel model system that will allow further investigation of the cellular and genetic pathways involved in Chordate regeneration and developmental process.

Vanessa Yepes

The University of Manchester
My name is Vanessa Yepes Narvaez; I am a Colombian biologist doing my PhD in the University of Manchester. Although my project is focused mainly in genetic connectivity of marine invasive bryozoans, I have always worked with other marine invertebrates in my country including tunicates, mostly in their taxonomy and systematics. I have developed some projects about fouling invertebrates in the Colombian Caribbean in deep and shallow environments; most of them have been using settlement plates and analysing the fauna attached to mangrove roots, one of the biggest achievements of those projects have been the opportunity to name new species for science and to increase the record of the marine fauna in my country. Tunicates and specially ascidians are very interesting for me, not only because of their remarkable evolutionary characteristics but because of their plasticity to adapt themselves to different environmental conditions which have allowed them to colonise almost all marine ecosystems around the world. I am very excited and thankful to have this outstanding opportunity and I know I will take the most of this course not only to increase my knowledge about this taxonomic group but to apply all the learnings in the development of new research projects that benefit my country.

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology through an award titled “Advancing Revisionary Taxonomy and Systematics: Integrative Research and Training in Tropical Taxonomy” (DEB-1456674). 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.