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Published: January 5, 2015

Bryozone—A home for the biodiversity of a colonial animal phylum

Stephanie Ware, Manager, Morphology Labs, SEM

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Project Mentor: Dr. Scott Lidgard (Curator, Geology, Integrative Research Center)

Project Description: This project is about a remarkable group of colonial animals – the Bryozoa. They dwell in all the world's oceans and freshwater streams and lakes. Their colonies are habitats for fishes and countless numbers of invertebrates. Their life cycles are vastly different from solitary animals. Most begin with a sexually produced larva that settles, digests and absorbs most larval organs, and metamorphoses into the first zooid of a colony. Budding then forms other zooids asexually. Much of their taxonomy is based on the fact that these zooids can have different body forms, even though they are identical genetically. However, their zooids are small, their taxonomy is complex, and they are grossly understudied.

The overall goal, of which this project is a vital stage, is to put bryozoan taxonomic, bibliographic, photographic, and geographic data on the web, and to make it accessible in ways that it currently is not. It should be easy for experts to contribute to or edit the data. It should also be easy to download the data or perform queries to reveal new information for the worldwide community of bryozoan researchers, evolutionary and conservation biologists, and students at all levels.

To do this, we have already constructed a taxonomic names database with over 40,000 species, valid and synonymized, together with authority names and dates and associated higher taxonomic ranks. Our platform for integrating biodiversity information, Bryozone, is part of the ScratchPads project at the Natural History Museum, London (click the drop-down taxonomy on the left). Our goal this summer is to incorporate images of bryozoan species, bibliographic records, and a glossary using existing ScratchPads modules. International leaders in bryozoan systematics, biogeography, and ecology are contributing these images and data. Aside from learning to love bryozoans, the student will share coordination of the work with Dr. Lidgard, systematists from Europe, New Zealand, and Australia, and the ScratchPads development team in London. ScratchPads is a multi-national biodiversity networking site funded by the European Union, that will enable members of the global bryozoan research community to help validate, manage, and share taxonomic data online. After this summer's project, we will at last be able to open the site to this research community, hopefully as a home where bryozoan biodiversity studies can thrive!

Research methods and techniques: Candidates with experience in invertebrate zoology/taxonomy or bioinformatics (or both!) are encouraged to apply, but all applicants will be considered. The student will receive an introduction to bryozoan morphology and systematics, instruction and hands-on experience in biodiversity database design practices, and strategies for accommodating systematic and biogeographic analyses of species morphology. He/she will actively participate in designing, implementation, and testing phases of the project.


Stephanie Ware
Manager, Morphology Labs, SEM

Stephanie Ware is currently a research assistant in the Division of Insects currently working with Dr. Petra Sierwald. She also works with Mary Hennen in the Division of Birds monitoring the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) populations in Illinois.