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Dates: July 17, 2005 - July 28, 2005
Location: Bocas Research Station, Bocas del Toro, Panamá
Organizer: Dr. Rachel Collin


Dr. Cristina Diaz

Smithsonian Institution

Dr. Robert Thacker

University of Alabama at Birmingham

Dr. Guilherme Muricy

Museu Nacional, Brazil

Course description:

In August 2005, we held a course on the taxonomy and ecology of Caribbean sponges, with a goal of training new investigators in sponge biology. Participants (3 lecturers and 13 students) represented 8 countries in North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean. Lecture material included discussions of the current taxonomy of marine sponges, an overview of the morphological characters that differentiate sponge families, recent developments of cytological characters, and applications of molecular systematics to questions in sponge taxonomy. Students learned to identify sponges using spicule preparations and histological sections in the laboratory, as well as external morphology in the field. Field surveys of mangrove and reef communities allowed students to gain further experience identifying unfamiliar species and using several survey techniques. Students observed 32 species in mangrove habitats and 57 species on shallow reefs. Laboratory exercises examined the role of microbial symbionts in sponge metabolism.

Students demonstrated significant symbiont photosynthesis and nitrate accumulation in Chondrilla nucula and Xestospongia proxima, but found no evidence of these processes in Niphates erecta. Students presented the results of independent projects at the end of the course, including studies of taxonomy (sponge fauna under coral rubble, chimeric species, and sibling species) and ecology (anthropogenic disturbance affecting sponge communities, larval biology, sponge diseases, and photosymbionts).

Course Participants

Ten countries were represented by the 27 applicants. In the end the following group of 13 students from 8 countries attended the course in August 2005.


Jennifer O'Leary

University of California, Santa Cruz
I am interested in the cascading impacts of fishing on non-fished benthic species that structure ecological communities. My thesis research investigates the effects of fishing on a group of understudied non-harvested reef species (crustose coralline algae) that are critical in maintaining reef structure. My research takes place in tropical Kenya, where fishing is important both economically and for sustenance. My project will provide significant contributions to the ways in which the ecosystem effects of fishing can be predicted and managed. My interest in sponges pertains to their role in maintaining or eroding structural complexity. Reef rubble produced by natural and man-made events requires binding before reef regeneration can occur. Stabilization of rubble is typically achieved through overgrowth by sponges (Rutzler 2002) or algae (usually crustose coralline). In established reefs, sponges can prevent bioerosion of dead corals by preventing access to eroding organisms (Wulff 2001). In these functions, sponges parallel the role of crustose coralline algae.

Elizabeth McLean

University of Puerto Rico.
I am currently enrolled in the State University of New York at Buffalo in the Evolution, Ecology and Animal behavior program. My research interests are population dynamics, association and interactions between sponges and gorgonians, and the role these associations play in structuring coral reefs. My thesis work was on the ecology of the Demosponge Desmapsamma anchorata, posted in: I have also looked into biofouling organisms in the south coast of Puerto Rico. I encourage everyone to ‘stop and say hi to them sponges’, sponge systematics are very important.

Carmen Schloeder

I conducted my PhD work in Bocas del Toro, Panama. My research interests are evaluating impacts of climate change and human activities on coral communities and the competition between reef organisms. Participating in the sponge course was a great experience for me, I learned a lot about these special organisms, met interesting people, and got to see coral reefs from a very different point of view.

Leslie Bates

Georgia Southern University

Diego Valderrama

Rio de Janeiro Federal University

Loren McClenachan


Cara Fiore

University South Carolina

Juan Carlos Marquez

Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Adriana Perez

Universidad de Oriente

Adriana Alvizu

Universidad de Oriente, Venezuela

Marco Romero

Central University of Venezuela, Venezuela

Deb Gochfeld

University of Mississippi

Patrick Erwin

University of Alabama


Resulting Publications and Presentations

The following publications and presentations were based on projects conducted during the 2005 sponge taxonomy course.

Diaz, M. C., R. W. Thacker and R. Collin.  2006. Taxonomy and Ecology of Caribbean Sponges: Effective Training for New Investigators.  Integrative and Comparative Biology.  45(6): 1124.

Valderrama, D. F., J. C. Márquez, M. A. Romero. 2006. Aplysina fulva (Pallas, 1776) and Aplysina cauliformis (Carter, 1882) from shallow coral areas of Isla Coló, Panamá 7th International Sponge Symposium. Buzios, Brasil.

Schloeder, C., R. Thacker, and D. Gochfeld. 2006. Effect of Anthropogenic Disturbance on Sponge Community Structure and Disease Incidence. 7th International Sponge Symposium. Buzios, Brasil.

McLean, E. L. and P. M. Yoshioka. 2006. Overgrowth of gorgonians by various sponges 7th International Sponge Symposium. Buzios, Brasil.

Erwin, P. 2006. Incidence, Identity and Importance of Photosynthetic Symbionts in Shallow-Water Coral Reef Sponge Communities. 7th International Sponge Symposium. Buzios, Brasil.

Erwin, P. 2006. Incidence and Importance of Photosynthetic Symbionts in Shallow-Water Sponge Communities. Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology 2006. Orlando, Florida

Erwin, P. 2006. Sponge-Photosymbiont Associations in Caribbean Coral Reefs of Panama. Université Laval, Quebec City, Quebec.