Systematics and Ecology of Caribbean Polychaetes

Dates: July 1, 2018 - July 14, 2018
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


Leslie Harris

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, California

Sergio I. Salazar-Vallejo

El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, México

Luis Carrera-Parra

El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, México

Course description:

Polychaetes are under appreciated but highly important components in marine ecosystems. The course is aimed at graduate students, post-docs, or professionals who work or plan to work on taxonomic and or ecological studies with polychaetes in general and Caribbean species in particular. The participants in this course will:

  • Learn to collect, identify, and preserve the most common polychaetes in different substrates of the Bocas del Toro region, such as mangrove roots, soft sediments, and hard bottoms in coral reefs.
  • Learn general biological and ecological characteristics of the group.
  • Improve their taxonomic experience with tropical polychaetes.
  • Improve their photographic skills to record pigmentation patterns of living worms.
  • Learn the basics of taxonomic description and publication.
  • Learn museum standards for long-term care of wet-preserved biological specimens.

Although polychaetes are largely unknown to most people our understanding of the impacts of human activities on the oceans can be monitored accurately only through the careful study of these fascinating animals. Polychaetes comprise a major animal lineage with well over 16,000 recognized species that occupy a wide range of marine environments. They form a major component of benthic communities from the intertidal to abyssal depths, in soft sediments, coral reefs and other hard substrates. Many members of this ancient group are ecologically and economically important as ecosystem engineers, as food sources for other organisms, as the basis of commercial enterprises, as indicators of environmental health, and as invasive or pest species.  The over 80 families of polychaetes show an amazing array of body forms and sizes. As one of the few segmented phyla, annelids are key to understanding the evolution of bilaterian body plans.

Bocas del Toro has a rich polychaete fauna.  To date approximately 400 species have been found in the area, about half of them described and half of them provisional species in need of further identification.  The course will be most useful for students from the greater Caribbean as most species are wide-spread through-out the región but anyone wishing to gain experience with the group will benefit.

This course will last 13 day, split between field collecting and lab work. After the 2013 Bocas polychaete workshop the students were asked to evaluate the course.  Overall they preferred to spend as much time as possible learning the characters & techniques that would enable them to proceed on their own after returning home.  Accordingly, the main focus here will be on basic systematics & ecology with a minor emphasis on phylogeny. A pdf library of 1600+ publications on or relevant to Caribbean polychaetes will be provided.

Daily activities will include 2 to 3 lectures, discussion, and laboratory practice. Field trips will be arranged with the station staff to visit at least once each of the different types of environments (soft sediments, mangrove, coral rocks, sandy beaches) near the Bocas Research station to collect baseline data for conservation and for future studies.  Snorkeling will be part of the field work but not SCUBA.  Those who want to dive can arrange to do so through one of the local dive shops on their day off.

During the second half of the course students will each prepare descriptive species pages using specimen they collect & photograph live.  The pages will be incorporated into a photo ID guide for the use of station visitors, students, outreach programs, and others.

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 30th, 2018. 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


Cheah Hoay Chuar

National University of Singapore, Malaysia
I am currently employed as Research Assistant at the Tropical Marine Science Institute, National University of Singapore. As part of a team working on baseline study for the benthic community in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone, I am involved in elucidating the identity and taxonomy of deep-sea benthic polychaetes. My main interest is in the taxonomy and ecology of benthic polychaetes. Through this workshop, I am hoping to gain hands-on experience in the field and laboratory studies of polychaetes collected from different substrata.

Gema Hidalgo Rodriguez

Institute of Oceanology, Cuba
I am a biologist with a Master's degree in Marine Ecology graduated from the University of Havana and a Doctorate in Ecology and Fisheries, from the University of Veracruz. My PhD thesis was focused on the ecological integrity of macrofauna in sandy beaches of the central coast of Veracruz, Gulf of Mexico. I am planning my postdoctoral research with the National Autonomous University of Mexico on diversity and ecological patterns of macrofaunal communities in sandy beaches of the Yucatán coastline, with particular emphasis on polychaetes. My research interests include systematics, ecology and conservation in marine and coastal systems.

Jimi Naoto

Hokkaido University, Japan
Naoto Jimi 3rd doctoral course student of Hokkaido University, Japan. Working on polychaetes taxonomy (especially Cirratuliformia).

Liron Goren

Tel Aviv University, Israel
I am a postdoctoral fellow in Tel-Aviv University and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History. I'm studying Israeli Polychaetes from the Mediterranean and the Red sea. Prior to my postdoctoral I gained experience in the study of ecology and biodiversity of terrestrial, freshwater and marine systems (Mediterranean and the Red Sea). My work included various taxonomic groups (Cladocera, Amphibians, Trematodes, Insects, Polychaetes, Decapoda). In the last nine years, I have also been working as a private ecological consultant for various Israeli NGO's and government organizations. In my current position I'm mainly focus on the biodiversity of sponge-inhabiting Polychaetes and other macroinvertebrates from mesophotic sponge-grounds along the Mediterranean coast of Israel. I'm trying to describe their biodiversity within various sponge species from both shallow and mesophotic habitat, and the processes that govern their distribution, and functions through time and space. In particular, I aim to understand the mechanisms that govern community composition and the spatial distribution of endofauna inside of their hosts. I'm also interested in sponge-inhabiting Polychaetes from the Red Sea and in polychaetes that inhabit invasive Tunicates.

Maria Alejandra Sanchez Zuñiga

University of Panama, Panama
I am a student of marine biology and Limnology at the University of Panama, currently for my graduation project I am working with benthic marine invertebrates where I evaluate how variations in oxygen in the seabed affect the abundance and diversity of these organisms. During the development of this thesis, I found a great variety of polychaetes present in the samples that I have reviewed so far, a situation that aroused in me a great fascination and desire to learn more about the ecology of this taxonomic group. I am very excited and grateful for the opportunity to participate in this course, which I will take full advantage of to apply all I have learned in the development of new research in Panama.

Maria Emilia Bravo

National University of the South, Argentina
I am interested in benthic communities of marine macroinvertebrates associated with hostile environments. In particular, I am interested in those associated with fossil hydrocarbon deposits, since they constitute a paradox: they can act as nocive due to their toxicity, or they can act as an alternative carbon source. My doctoral thesis focuses on the impact of shallow gas on the subtidal benthic communities of the Bahía Blanca estuary (Argentina). There is scarce information referring to the benthic communities of this estuary. They are dominated by polychaetes in abundance and diversity. These are important when comparing a gas environment with one that is gas-free. I am especially eager to expand my knowledge in the identification and characterization of polychaetes to deepen my research of polychaetes in the Bahía Blanca estuary and the adjacent coastal system, where there is an extremely low number of specialists in the field.

Mary Colleen Hannon

Texas A&M at Galveston, United States
Previous to starting my doctoral studies at Texas A&M University, I participated in a variety of marine invertebrate related research projects. Of which I was most excited to contribute to was a Marine Protected Area Baseline Survey and a biomechanical analysis of Cnidarian swimming patterns. These projects fostered my interest in taxonomy and functional morphology, as well as introducing me to the vast diversity of invertebrate bauplans. Early in my career, I made the decision to specialize on Polychaetes during my higher education. I am now in the early stages of developing a thesis to expand the current knowledge on polychaete chaetae. My research will include descriptions of chaetal shape, their primary functions, and insight on their evolutionary history. Additionally, I will be looking into the genetic drivers behind chaetogenesis. I hope to have a robust analysis, describing chaetae from a variety of families across the annelid clade.

Nancy Kotchian Prentiss

University of Maine at Farmington, United States
I teach marine biology and botany at the University of Maine at Farmington. I survey polychaetes in National Park Service waters around St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. In Maine, I use a coastal Maine polychaete, Hediste diversicolor, to investigate its gene expression for some metal-sequestering genes, that are produced in response to heavy metal contamination in an estuary that surrounds an old copper mine.

Nenibarini Zabbey

University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Dr. Nenibarini Zabbey lectures in the Department of Fisheries, Faculty of Agriculture at University of Port Harcourt in Rivers State, Nigeria. His research interest is in benthic ecology, biological monitoring and restoration of degraded wetlands. He is currently researching "Polychaete diversity of varied health-integrity habitats in different reaches of Bonny Estuary, Niger Delta".

Ofir Molina Gonzales

CICESE, Mexico
My name is Ofir Molina-Gonzalez, I was born in Mexico city in September 1988 I studied Oceanography in the University of Baja California in Ensenada, which is a city located ~100 km south of San Diego in USA. After finishing the Bachelor's degree I studied the Master in Marine Ecology at CICESE, a research Center of the CONACYT system, I obtained it in October 2012 I have been participating in different projects in the Laboratory of Dra Victoria Díaz-Castañeda, working with the benthos in the coastal zone (6-20 m depth) of Bahia de los Angeles which is a small bay that receives shark whales every summer, located in the Gulf of California. We also study an artificial reef placed in Rosarito (which is a city located ~45 km south of San Diego) in November 2016, periodically we recover, metal, PVC and terracotta plates in order to study the colonization process in the different materials. I am also collaborating in a study of the impact of a desalination plant in the benthic communities of Todos Santos Bay, Baja California.

Ricardo Castro Álvarez

UFRRJ, Chile
I'm a chilean master degree student from Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro - Brazil. I'm a biologist interested about taxonomy and polychaetes. Currently I'm studying polychaetes associated to rocky shores from Sepetiba bay - RJ, where I compare two environments: algae tufts and mussel banks.

Shazara Nadie Ali

University of Trinidad and Tobago, UK
I am a 2nd year PhD student at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) in the Department of Marine Sciences, with primary supervisor Dr. Reia Guppy. My Master's degree in Integrated Coastal and Ocean Management (ICOM) at UTT culminated in a thesis on the spatial analysis of subtidal infauna of the Foreshore, I am currently pursuing a PhD where I intend on cataloging the benthic macroinvertebrates along the west coast of Trinidad, called the Gulf of Paria. My ultimate goal is to create an detailed visual identification key and atlas of benthic macrofauna for Trinidad and Tobago, and the wider region, as a tool for environmental quality assessments.

Victoria Esther Bogantes Aguilar

Auburn University, Costa Rica
I am a PhD student at Auburn University. Currently, I am working on multiple projects that involve studying biogeography, systematics, and evolutionary relationships of different groups of annelids by using morphological and molecular approaches. I am constantly looking to gain experience in annelid taxonomy, which helps me to understand the diversity and morphological variation in this group.