Taxonomy and Biology of Nemerteans

Dates: August 19, 2018 - August 31, 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.


Dr. Svetlana Maslakova

University of Oregon

Dr. Megan Schwartz

University of Puget Sound

Nicole Moss

PhD student at University of Colorado, Anschutz

Course description:

The course is aimed at graduate students, post-docs, or professionals who are interested in learning and applying knowledge about the biology, diversity and systematics of a fascinating and ecologically important but understudied phylum of marine invertebrates – the nemerteans (ribbon worms). The students participating in this course will:

  • Learn how to collect nemerteans associated with shallow coral reefs, mangrove fouling communities, and macroalgae of the Bocas del Toro region
  • Learn general biological characteristics of the group, major taxonomic subdivisions, and characters used for species identification and description
  • Learn to collect and identify planktonic larvae of nemerteans
  • Learn to preserve larval and adult nemerteans for subsequent morphological and molecular studies

Nemerteans are ubiquitous in marine communities worldwide; they are common and diverse, with ~1300 described species, ranging in length from a few millimeters to several meters (one species is officially the longest animal on Earth). Most are free-living predators, that attack and subdue their prey using an eversible proboscis and an impressive array of toxins. Some are parasites or egg predators of other marine invertebrates, including many commercially fished species of crustaceans. Nemertean larvae are very diverse and are commonly present in the plankton. Yet these beautiful and fascinating worms remain largely ignored even by invertebrate zoologists, in part because of their cryptic habits (many are nocturnal, and, in general, they are hard to find unless you know how to look), presence of numerous cryptic species (morphologically indistinguishable, but genetically distinct), and also because of the inherent difficulties associated with preservation and identification of soft-bodied organisms. The nemertean fauna of Bocas del Toro, Panama is very poorly known. Some 16 species are reported in the published literature (with many undescribed species), but recent sampling and DNA-barcoding suggests that the actual diversity is at least five times that number. This likely reflects the amount of undescribed diversity for this phylum worldwide.

This course will engage students in the real work of collecting, identifying and describing nemerteans. The course will last 10 days, with the first five days dedicated to collecting and learning about nemertean biology and the techniques to identify, preserve and characterize nemertean species (both in their larval and adult forms). Our time will be divided between field trips, lectures and laboratory exercises. Second half of the course will be dedicated to individual research projects (e.g. producing formal descriptions of local undescribed species, studying the embryonic and larval development, feeding habits or other aspects of biology, according to student interests). The course will conclude with student presentations of their research projects. For more information on nemerteans see:

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


Cecili Barroso Mendes

USP, Brazil
Cecili Mendes is a PhD student at Universidade de São Paulo. Her main interest is Nemertean diversity and gene flow, specially how they are influenced by environmental factors and biogeographic barriers. Cecili's PhD project is focused on Seascape Genomics using Nemerteans and Polychaetes as biologic systems through Next generation sequencing tools. Cecili is also interested in the use of molecular tools for species delimitation and discovery of cryptic species among the Phylum Nemertea.

Christina Iris Ellison

Oregon University, United States
Christina recently completed a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology at the University of Oregon. She currently works in the Maslakova lab at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB), generating DNA sequence data from nemerteans to aid in diversity assessment of the phyla, and she was involved in creating the identification guide used in this workshop. She is interested in molecular biology and taxonomy, and their application in biodiversity assessment of marine organisms. She looks forward to working on a master’s thesis in the Maslakova lab starting this fall.

Christine Josee De Roux

Sarah Lawrence College, United States
Christine deRoux is a recent graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, and current student of Jon Norenberg at the Smithsonian Institute. Christine is interested in parasite biodiversity among the nemerteans as well as the group's deep systematics. More broadly, Christine aims to expand the pool of biotechnology available to systematists, through the generation of informative libraries as well as the development of computational biology software more apt to capture the effects of parasitism on evolution

Eduardo Enrique Zattara

CONICET, Argentina
Ed is currently an Adjunct Researcher at Argentina's National Council for Research and Technology (CONICET) working at the Institute for Biodiversity and Environmental Research located in the city of Bariloche, where he got his initial degree in Biology. He left the country for a decade to obtain a PhD in Behavior, Ecology, Evolution and Systematics at the University of Maryland, College Park, and later held postdoctoral positions at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History and Indiana University, Bloomington, before returning home. Ed's research experience explored a wide range of systems, including ecology of freshwater fisheries, evolution of regeneration in annelids and nemerteans, eco-evo-devo of horned beetles, pollinator decline, and the evolutionary consequences of somatic mutation in long lived and clonal organisms without early germline segregation. Despite this diversity in topics, Ed is arriving to Bocas wearing his Ribbon Worm hat, and interested in strengthening his knowledge about Nemertean systematics and his ties to this research community.

Irina Cherneva

Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia
Hi, my name is Mira Cherneva. I am a PhD student at the Invertebrate Zoology department of the Lomonosov Moscow State University. My research focuses on nemerteans of the White Sea, their diversity, biology and systematics. I am most interested in integrating different approaches, such as phylogeny, classical and modern morphology, developmental biology, etc

Jaime Alberto Gonzales Cueto

Universidad de Bogota Jorge Tadeo Lozano, Colombia
Jaime Alberto Gonzalez Cueto (born May 14, 1992), is a Biologist from Colombia. Currently works as a high school teacher, teaching Natural Science and Environmental Education. Jaime does research in Marine Biology, Zoology and Systematics (Taxonomy), He is interested in answering several research questions related to Nemertean species present in Colombia. Their most recent publication is “First record of Carcinonemertes conanobrieni (Nemertea, Carcinonemertidae), an egg predator of the Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus, in the Caribbean Coast of Colombia”. In this paper, the authors make the first record of C. conanobrieni from all the Caribbean Sea (Carcinonemertes genus may cause a substantial decrease of the reproductive performance of the host, mainly crabs and lobsters).

Jose Elias Fernandez Alfaya

CONICET, Argentina
PhD in biological Science and Assitant Professor in Animal Diversity I from the National University of Patagonia San Juan Bosco, Puerto Madryn, Argentina. My research focuses on marine nemerteans biodiversity, a poorly studied taxa in Argentina. The main goal of my research is to characterize the nemertean fauna using morphological and molecular characters, and the phylogenetic relationships between species. Another major focus of my research is to study the ecological role of Nemerteans in the benthic trophic assemblees, with special attention to those species that live in symbiotic relationships with other invertebrates.

Karen Kimberley Cram

Biologica Environmental Services Ltd., Canada
I first started learning about nemerteans while studying invertebrates at the University of Victoria, Canada. I now work for a consulting company doing taxonomy of benthic invertebrates, this is where I have developed a real appreciation for lesser studied phyla.

Kevin Michael Kocot

University of Alabama, United States
Kevin Kocot is an Assistant Professor at The University of Alabama and Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the Alabama Museum of Natural History. Kevin's research is focused on the systematics and evolutionary genomics of marine invertebrates using both traditional and cutting-edge tools. Kevin is particularly interested in deep metazoan phylogeny (including the phylogenetic position of Nemertea) and the biodiversity and systematics of the worm-like aplacophoran molluscs

Luis Carlos Rodriguez Castrejon

University of Panama, Panama
My name is Luis Rodríguez, I am currently a senior at the University of Panama in the orientation of Marine Biology and Limnology. I am doing my thesis on the cyprid larval stage of the barnacles.

Milshah Ramkissoon

CoastalDynamics Limited, Trinidad and Tobago
I am commencing my Ph.D. in Biology at the University of the West Indies this year. My research will be focused on the impacts of oil and gas drilling on the marine benthic macro and meiofauna community. I have led many benthic\ ecological studies for baseline and post-drill monitoring surveys and Environmental Impact Assessments around Trinidad and Tobago. Very little is known about the nemertean worms within the region. My main interest is to contribute greatly to the collection and identification of nemerteans within the southern Caribbean region.

Natsumi Hookabe

Hokkaido University, Japan
I am in the 1st year of a Master's degree in biological science at Hokkaido University, Japan. My research interest is systematics and evolutionary ecology of the Phylum Nemertea, in particulalr, Pilidiophora. There are some heteronemerteans getting very long body length, such as Lineus longissimus. One of my current research is to reveal why such heteroemerteans get so long, focusing on their life history traits. I am also working on taxonomy and phylogeny of Nemertea with morphological observation and molecular analysis.

Neonila Poliakova

National Scientific Center of Marine Biology, Russia
I am Neonila Polyakova. I am a senior scientific researcher at the Laboratory of Genetics, National Scientific Center of Marine Biology, Far East Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Vladivostok, Russia. I study the cryptic taxonomic diversity of nemerteans of the Northern hemisphere, as well as the phylogeny and evolution of the phylum Nemertea based on analyses of mitochondrial and nuclear DNAs

Omar Lagunas Calvo

UNAM, Mexico
Omar Lagunas is a Phd student at National Autonomous University of Mexico. Omar's research is focused on the systematics and evolution of enigmatic invertebrates in Mexico such as nemerteans, pentastomids and branchiurids.

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.