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Dates: July 11, 2016 - July 26, 2016
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


Dr. Robert Thacker

Stony Brook University

Dr. Cristina Diaz

Nova Southeastern University

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.

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, 2016. 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


Marie Le Croller

University of Aix-Marseille, France
I am a PhD student at Aix Marseille University, France. My research focuses on sponge chemical ecology in benthic ecosystems, more specifically on relations between their exometabolomic signature and the structuring and functioning of marine biodiversity. I am using a behavioral and a metabolomic approach to study the response of small crustaceans to sponge communities “scents”; and to characterize these chemical cues in submarine cave ecosystems of the north western Mediterranean. My aim with the course is to acquire strong skills and knowledge about marine sponges in general, and Caribbean species in particular, to enrich as much as possible my thesis work. I am very grateful to the STRI committee and I am looking forward to meeting everyone!

Ana Yranzo Duque

Central University of Venezuela, Venezuela
I am Researcher of the Laboratory of Aquatic Ecosystems from the Institute of Tropical Zoology and Ecology, Central University of Venezuela. My research interests are in the ecology and taxonomy of sponges, corals and octocorals. The investigations in which I have been working on are focused on the health of these organisms, through monitoring programs of their health status. In the latest years I have been working in the farthest place of my country (Venezuela), and therefore little explored: an island near Guadalupe and Montserrat Islands called Isla de Aves (Birds Island). The extraordinary diversity of sponges we found there has reinforced my interest in the taxonomy and ecology of this interesting benthonic group.

Jeffrey Robinson

Dartmouth College, Hanover, United States
My research interests encompass the evolution of gene regulatory networks, functions of microRNA regulatory mechanisms in evolution and disease, and evolutionary genetics. I am also engaged in biostatistical and functional genomics data analysis, and am a student of the history of evolutionary theory and philosophy of science. During my PhD thesis, I used phylogenetics to study the molecular evolution of protein-coding components of the metazoan microRNA biogenesis pathway (the ‘Microprocessor complex’), with a particular focus on basal metazoan phyla and the origin of microRNA processing. In my experimental work, I studied expression of microRNAs in the Demospongia during tissue dissociation and reaggregation, and collaborated with the genome sequencing projects of Oscarella (Class Homoscleromorpha), Sycon and Leucosolenia (Class Calcarea) on discovery of novel microRNAs in those taxa. I am currently a NIH postdoctoral research fellow, where I study microRNA networks involved in regulating gut epithelial tissue during glucocorticoid-mediated stress responses. Along the lines of my previous research, my current work also includes studying evolutionary conservation of gut-related gene expression profiles, and molecular evolution of signaling pathways and hormone-receptor transcriptional networks affecting cellular differentiation and physiology in endothelial tissues. In the future, I would like to develop an experimental system to address similar research questions using ecological-evolutionary-developmental (eco-evo-devo) approaches.

Marta Turon

I am a PHD student at the CEAB (Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Blanes), a research center belonging to CSIC (Centro Superior de Investigaciones Científicas) which is the National Institution for Scientific Research in Spain. My work is focused on marine symbioses, which represent a fundamental contribution, although cryptic, to the diversity and stability of marine ecosystems. Sponges constitute ideal models for the study of marine symbioses, since they are the most ancient metazoans and they harbour a large bacterial flora. Using different descriptive and experimental approaches, such as genomic tools and meta-transcriptomics I aim to: i) compare sponge symbioses in the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific tropical, focusing mainly on the abundance of photosynthetic and heterotrophic bacteria, the presence/abundance of calcibacteria and, on the association with polychaetes, and to ii) experimentally study the costs and benefits of the symbiosis with micro- and macro-organisms in target relationships, as well as their obligatory nature. In that context, the identification of sponges is of crucial importance for the development of the project and constitutes the starting point of my study. Because of that, I think this course will be of great help to become familiar with tropical sponges.

Robyn Payne

University of the Western Cape, South Africa
I am currently a PhD student at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. I became interested in sponge research (especially taxonomy), while pursuing my MSc on the sponge fauna of Walters Shoal Seamount, located in the Western Indian Ocean. After being exposed to the geometrical beauty of spicules, discovering several sponge species that are possibly new to science, and appreciating the understudied nature of sponges within this region, I decided to further pursue a PhD on the sponge fauna of the Eastern Cape Amathole region (South Africa). I am eager to broaden my knowledge on the taxonomy and ecology of sponges, while also meeting other researchers who are passionate about these undervalued organisms!

Amruta Prasade

Bombay Natural History Society, India
Although I am graduated in Biotechnology; my interest in Marine life was fulfilled through my current research. I am a Research Student in Bombay Natural History Society and currently pursuing PhD under University of Mumbai on population study of sponge feeding Discodorid sea slugs. I am studying rocky, sandy and muddy intertidal habitats of west coast of India under various institutional projects. Knowledge about sponges in my country is patchy and my aim is to study neglected and unexplored areas of Indian coast. My research includes species inventory and taxonomy of intertidal invertebrates especially sponges and their associations with other invertebrates. During this workshop I am looking forward to gain precise knowledge on biology and ecology of sponges and their role in marine ecosystems.

Camille Leal

Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I am a Ph.D. student in Genetics at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. My Ph.D research project aims to (1) identify the Porifera biodiversity at the extensive reef system found underneath the plume of the Amazon river, (2) characterize the chemical and microbial diversity of Monanchora arbuscula and Xestospongia muta along a Caribbean - Brazilian cline and, (3) verify the existence of an area of marine sponge endemism in Brazil and the Southern Caribbean. In my M.Sc. degree I worked on the taxonomy of Brazilian excavating sponges. My focus is in the intregative taxonomy of sponges using morphology, molecular analysis, microbial and secondary metabolites diversities as principal tools for the identification and characterization of species.

Lauren Law

University of Alberta, Canada
I am a MSc student at the University of Alberta, Canada studying the ecology of glass sponge reefs in Hecate Strait, British Columbia. I am supported by an NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship and am working collaboratively with the CHONe II (Canadian Healthy Oceans Network) team. On the sea floor where much of the landscape is flat and barren, glass sponge reefs add complex topography that provides habitat for a diversity of marine life. Trawling and oil and gas exploration threaten to destroy these unique formations. In 2010, Canada declared the Hecate Strait reefs an Area of Interest for marine protected areas (MPAs) establishment. I use multi-scale mapping to study the spatial pattern and distribution of sponges in the Hecate Strait to address the following questions: What fauna assemble around the reefs? Is there a discrete difference in biodiversity on and off reef? How much water do the reefs pump and what are their effects on deep sea nutrient cycling? This project aims to inform policy-makers about the ecology of glass sponges in order to improve the long-term monitoring and planning of sponge reef MPAs.

Joseph Kelly

Stony Brook University, United States
I am a PhD student in the Ecology and Evolution department at Stony Brook University. My Master’s project involved a phylogenetic reconstruction of the sponge family Irciniidae using nuclear and mitochondrial molecular markers. I am continuing this work in my doctoral thesis and intend to broaden my research interests to include the ecology of sponges, holobiont dynamics, and to test macroevolutionary hypotheses using sponges as a model system.

Raquel Pereira

Uppsala University, Portugal
My thesis focuses on Sweden Sponge diversity, especially regarding the family Suberitidae, which besides problematic due its simple spicules, it has been recently proved to be non-monophyletic. In order to solve this, rather old, imbroglio I will use both classical methods (microscopy) and molecular analysis, using molecular markers but also NGS.

Oscar Bocardo

Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, Mexico
I’m a biologist from Mexico. As an undergraduate student at the Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Nuevo León, Mexico, I worked in an invertebrates scientific collection, and I decided to identify the marine sponges that were deposited there for my thesis work, and as a result of that we discovered three new records of sponges for Mexican waters. At present day, and for my master thesis I will be working in a research to describe the biodiversity of sponges that lives in cryptic environments at the southern Gulf of Mexico. Everything about sponges is of interest for me and I would like to increase my knowledge about their taxonomy and learn more about their ecological strategies.

Verónica De La Parra

Universidad de Especialidades Espíritu Santo, Ecuador
I got my Undergraduate Degree in Environmental Engineer at the UEES (Universidad de Especialidades Espíritu Santo) in Ecuador. Since last year I’ve been working as a technical assistant in a project that evaluates the impact of human activities on the macrobenthic diversity in intertidal and subtidal rocky substrates along two peninsulas at the coast of Ecuador. I’m planning to take a Master Degree related to the interspecific marine interactions, with a special interest in sponges, coral reefs and climate change. I am very thankful to the STRI for this great opportunity that will give me the right tools to boost more investigation projects in Ecuador.

Sarah Griffiths

University of Manchester, United Kingdom
My research uses molecular techniques (microsatellites, next-generation sequencing, mitochondrial COI gene) for ecological research on sponges - particularly population genetics of Caribbean sponges, and sponge-associated microbial communities. I am looking forward to developing my traditional taxonomy and ecology skills in this course to enable me to broaden my research on sponge biodiversity

Angela Marulanda

Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia
I am a biology B.Sc. graduated from Universidad Javeriana (Cali, Colombia). My research work has focused on the competition for space between Caribbean burrowing sponges of the genus Cliona and stony corals. During my undergraduate thesis, I evaluated the process of substrate monopolization of the encrusting excavating sponge Cliona tenuis through its competitive interaction with coral colonies, both on a short and mid-term period. I am keen to continue learning about other Caribbean sponges, hence I think that this course will help me to strengthen my skills and broaden my knowledge on biological, ecological and taxonomical features of these organisms.

Sula Salani

Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I am a Post-doc at Museu Nacional of Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, supervised by Dr. Eduardo Hajdu. My Post-doc research project aims to verify if there are particular divergent morphologic traits when comparing Brazilian and Caribbean populations of Phorbas amaranthus, Tedania ignis, and Scopalina ruetzleri. I am studying morphological, histological and molecular characters. At my PhD degree I worked on the taxonomy of Hymedesmiidae from the Brazilian Coast and my MSc degree was on the taxonomy of sponges from the coast of Ceará.

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.