For this week's blog post, I have decided to give a bit more detail into the research that I will be doing over the next few weeks. To do this, I will provide snippets of my recent research proposal to give you some insight into why I will be doing this specific research.
I propose to assess the species diversity of phylum Nemertea (ribbon worms) of Bocas del Toro, Panama. Estimates vary, but it is clear that most species on Earth remain undescribed (Appeltans et al., 2012; Mora et al., 2011). Some taxa and regions in the world are better studied than others, and nemerteans are one of the lesser known phyla of marine invertebrates. In particular, biodiversity of this group in the tropical regions is poorly known. There are only 16 species of nemerteans reported from Bocas del Toro, most of which are undescribed (Collin et al., 2005). Recent estimates suggest that the actual diversity is at least five times that number (Maslakova, pers. comm.). Classical species identification relies on morphological characteristics that may not be a reliable means of distinguishing between cryptic species or newly diverged species. For instance, a previously known species of nemertean, Micrura alaskensis, has recently been found to be five separate cryptic species (Hiebert & Maslakova, 2015). DNA barcoding can be used to identify species on a molecular level when morphological characteristics are inadequate.
This research will help to document and increase biodiversity of a phylum that before now has been severely understudied. By combining DNA barcoding with classical morphological species identification, we can identify species at a much faster rate than ever before. This is especially important with increasing extinction rates due to anthropogenic disturbances, with extinction rates becoming higher than discovery rates of new species (Miloslavich et al., 2010). DNA barcoding also allows for matching of larval forms to adult forms which is not easily done using morphological characteristics. Identifying larval forms helps understanding of life phases, as well as increases biodiversity and understanding by finding larval forms when adults are unavailable.
My research will continue over the next 5 weeks until Friday, August 11th, with approximately 45 samples completed each week using the previously mentioned processes. Presentation of my results will be on Monday, August 14th at Charleston Marine Life Center in Charleston, Oregon. The research will be ongoing in the lab after I am finished with the OIMB REU program.
My name is Becky, and I have been local to the Coos Bay and Charleston area for two years with my boyfriend David, and my dog Mojo. I moved to this area to complete my associate's degree at Southwestern Oregon Community College in anticipation of transferring to a four-year university. I now attend online at Oregon State University and I am planning a move to Bend, OR in August to continue at the OSU Cascades campus in order to finish my bachelor's degree in either natural resources or biology.