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Dates: July 16, 2012 - July 30, 2012
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.


Karem Aguirre

Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia
I got my Undergraduate Degree in Biology at Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University (Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia). My thesis was developed on the identification of a Demospongie associated with the satellite sea’s spines (Eucidaris thouarsii). This sponge was found to be a new species; we described it in 2011 and named it Clathria aculeofila sp.nov. I am very interested in understanding the relationship between both species, what their ecologic role is, what their function is, etc. I am very thankful to STRI for this great opportunity.

Stephanie Archer

Florida International University
I am beginning my PhD at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. Generally, I am interested in the interaction between nutrient availability and community structure. For my thesis I am investigating how eutrophication alters the composition of the sponge community in nearshore back reef habitats. Additionally I am interested in the potential role of sponges, particularly nitrifying sponges, in mediating the impact of anthropogenic nutrient loading.

Cheryl Carmack

University of Alabama at Birmingham
I got my B.S. in Biology at UAB and have since been working under Dr. Thacker on the Porifera Tree of Life Project. My research has focused on using 28S ribosomal gene sequences from a wide array of sponge species as a tool to examine and improve our understanding of relationships within Phylum Porifera. I will be starting graduate school this Fall at the College of Charleston

Lindsey Deignan

University of North Carolina Wilmington
I am a graduate student at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. I am broadly interested in reef ecosystem ecology, particularly the mechanisms that allow reefs to support such high levels of sponge biodiversity. I am currently studying the distribution patterns of the giant barrel sponge (Xestospongia muta) to test what may be controlling their dispersion across a reef.

Christian Diaz

I am a marine biologist from Colombia. Currently, my work is related to environmental baseline characterizations of ecosystems and taxonomy of sponges and echinoderms. I am very interested in issues of marine ecology and inter-specific interactions, mainly between sponges and other organisms in the context of climate change. I really want to take the course to win more hands-on experience with live and fresh sponges and identify possible future investigations with the participants and tutors.

Cole Easson

Marianela Gastaldi

Universidad Nacional de Córdoba
I am a PhD student from the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (Argentina), with a fellowship of the National Conseil of Scientific and Technical Research (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET). My thesis focuses on the ecological role of coastal sponges’ community in Bahía San Antonio, northern Patagonia. The determination of epi and infaunal species associated with sponges, the relationship between sponges and other conspicuous taxa and how the sponges´ community behaves in euthrophic environments are some of my main research goals.

Zvi Hoffman

Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur
I am a marine biology student at Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur. In my bachelor thesis I am working on a taxonomic study of Verongids sponges from Mexican Pacific and Gulf of California, taking into account morphology, biochemistry and genetics. I would like to tank STRI and everyone who has been supporting me on assisting to this course. Also for giving me the opportunity to increase my knowledge and meet other researchers who share my passion… marine sponges.

Kenan Matterson

University of Alabama in Birmingham

Paolo Melis

University of Sassari

Philip Nemoy

University of Haifa, Israel
I am a PhD student in the University of Haifa, Israel. My main interest in the STRI course “Taxonomy and Ecology of Caribbean Sponges” is to broaden my experience in sponge taxonomy and identification, as well as to deepen my understanding of tropical ecosystems. My research deals with cultivation of marine sponges in an Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA), and also with ecological aspects of Eastern Mediterranean sponges within the local benthic ecosystem. Due to the fact that the fauna of Eastern Mediterranean Basin (the Levant Sea) is gradually changing from temperate to tropical, the knowledge of tropical sponges will help me to identify the change in local sponge biota, as well as to predict the possible ecological implications of this change. I really appreciate the opportunity to participate in the course and am looking forward to meeting everyone.

Walker Pett

Iowa State University
I am a PhD student at Iowa State University. My research focuses on sponge systematics and mitochondrial genome evolution in non-bilaterian animals. I am interested in the history of diversification of major sponge lineages and its connections to mitochondrial genome diversity across porifera. I hope to better appreciate the context within which sponge genome evolution has taken place through a more hands-on understanding of the differences in ecology, morphology and population history between groups of sponges.

Francisco Pires

University of Azores
My Master thesis was to study the biodiversity, distribution and ecology of sponges in the south coast of Portugal. I'm currently a technician in a european project called SPECIAL (, in the University of Azores, Portugal. Here we determine, collect and identify taxonomically target species for their biotechnological potential. SInce we are half way cross the Atlantic I'm very interested to learn about the Caribbean sponge fauna because of the amphi-Atlantic possibilities.

Alissa Rickborn

Boston University
I am a PhD student at Boston University. My research focuses on the behavioral ecology and population dynamics of the obligate sponge dwelling goby, Elacatinus lori. Specifically, I am interested in how residents use different sponge habitats to increase both the fitness of themselves and their sponge host. In the future, I look forward to investigating the relationship between micro-habitat specialists and their hosts across environments of varying quality. I am looking forward to meeting everyone!

Astrid Sánchez Jimenez

University of Costa Rica
My research interests are the taxonomy and ecology of sponges as a tool for marine areas conservation. I am currently working on my master degree thesis, with a proposal for the creation of a new protected marine area in Punta Coyote, Eastern Pacific of Costa Rica, based on some socio-economical aspects of the region and in the hawksbill turtle habitat. This habitat includes the presence of marine sponges, and my goal is to estimate the population density, biomass and spatial distribution of Geodia sp, the main component of the diet of the hawksbill turtle in the area, in order to justify the priority places to preserve. I am also interested in sponge’s biodiversity in special environments (specially deep water).

Laura Schejter

Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo Pesquero (INIDEP)
I´m a young researcher at Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET - National Council for Scientific and Technical Research) working at the Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo Pesquero (INIDEP - National Institute for Fisheries Research and Development) in Argentina. My studies are related with benthic communities, with emphasis in communities subjected to scallop trawling. Taxonomy of porifera became one of my personal interests within my research, as sponges are very conspicuous organisms in the majority of the scallop communities, and even more in marine undisturbed areas of the Argentinean shelf. I´m very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this course that will help me a lot in learning general characteristics, tools and tips for the determination of the different families, orders and classes of sponges that could appear in my own samples.

Emily Smith

Nova Southeastern University
I am a MS student at Nova Southeastern University's Oceanographic Center. I am interested in sponge genetics and sponge-associated microbial communities. For my thesis, I plan to investigate changes in sponge gene expression levels of targeted stress genes in response to time-dependent exposure to BP crude oil and dispersant, Corexit 9500. I also plan to utilize fluorescence in-situ hybridization to identify sponge bacterial communities and transmission electron microscopy to view the spatial arrangements of microorganisms.

Diana Ugalde

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
I am student of Master degree, at the Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnologia, in Mexico. My main interest in the course is to acquire and improve my knowledge in the systematic taxonomy and ecology of these organisms, that is represent a fundamental part of my investigation. Also I realize that this important invertebrate group has been understudied in Mexico. Whit this chance, I will be better prepared to participate and help increasing the marine sponge’s knowledge in my country.

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.