Student Research Projects

Ultrastructure study of spicules in the nudibranch Doriopsilla pharpa (Marcus, 1961) and its sponge prey Cliona celata Grant 1826

Student Andrea Rodriguez '14
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department Biology
Course BIO 489: Research in Natural Sciences


Opisthobranch (sea slugs) populations in the Florida Keys are threatened by a variety of anthropogenic activities such as habitat destruction and eutrophication. The most recent study assessing biodiversity in 1994 only focused on one group of opisthobranchs (Order Ascoglossa). The purpose of this study is to assess current biodiversity of five major orders of opisthobranchs from the Florida Keys. Because many species of Ascoglossa exhibit non-feeding planktonic and aplanktonic development, developmental strategies of collected species were also determined in the laboratory. Sixteen sites: 8 sites in the Florida Bay and 8 sites in the Atlantic Ocean were sampled. Collections were made in the intertidal zone, shallow water, on patch reefs, under rocks, and within mangrove roots while wading and snorkeling. To consider the possible effects of environmental parameters, water temperature, and salinity was recorded for each site at the time of sampling. Living specimens were maintained in saltwater aquaria at Keys Marine Laboratory (KML) in Long Key where species were identified and cultured to study embryonic development. A total of 76 specimens and 14 species were collected, representing four of the five major opisthobranch orders. Two species can be considered abundant (n=15). Four species can be considered rare (n=1). Four species were collected from both coasts of Florida. These data reveal a diverse assemblage of opisthobranchs in the upper Keys. Twenty-one percent of collected species laid egg masses and were observed for 5-6 days. The egg capsule volume and egg diameter were recorded and compared with literature values. Fifty-seven percent of collected species have type 2 (35%) or type 3 (21%) mode of development.


2013 Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges
Summer Undergraduate Science Research Fellowship