Marine Invertebrates of the New England Coast

CAS BI 547

Contact the Instructor
Professor John R. Finnerty

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    Life cycle of a marine parasite.

    LIfe cycle of a parasitic sea anemone native to Massachusetts partially characterized by Marine Semester students.

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    Collecting comb jellies

    BI547 student Barcley Pace collects comb jellies (phylum Ctenophora) in Woods Hole, MA.

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    Published scientists

    Based on their original research in Marine Invertebrates, 12 Marine Semester students co-author a peer-reviewed journal article.

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    Collecting comb jellies

    BI547 student Mystral Echavarria collects comb jellies (phylum Ctenophora) in Woods Hole, MA.

Course Description

This course examines the diversity of marine animals. We focus on major evolutionary innovations that occurred during the 600 million year history of animals and contemporary ecological processes that shape coastal marine communities. Topics include major features of body plans (multicellularity, symmetry, paired appendages, etc.), reproductive strategies (sex, asexual propagation, regeneration, etc.), trophic strategies (infaunal filter feeders, pelagic predators, parasites), and the responses of marine animals to environmental challenges, both natural and anthropogenic.

In the laboratory portion of the course, students  conduct original research into the ecology and evolution of two close related sea anemones. (1) The starlet sea anemone Nematostella vectensis, is a denizen of estuarine pools. Students working on “Stella” will focus on how this animal makes a living in the harsh and rapidly changing environment of a coastal salt marsh, and whether different genetic strains of the anemone are differentially adapted to stress. (2) The lined sea anemone, Edwardsiella lineata, is closely related to Nematostella, but it lives in coastal marine habitats, and it has recently evolved into a parasite. Research on “Ed” will focus on key elements of the relationship between the parasite and its comb-jelly host such as the fitness consequences of infection for the host and the mode of parasite transmission.

Depending on the particular question(s) you are addressing, your research may include field work at local coastal habitats or controlled laboratory studies on whole organisms. In past years, publication-quality original data has been generated, and students have contributed as co-authors on manuscripts that report findings from the class.

Recent syllabus: MarineSemester_Syllabus_MarineInvertebrates_2010_Finnerty

Example of a student research project in BI 547:

Pilzer & Tomecek (2010) “Chemoreception and Locomotion of Nematostella vectensis” (BI547_2010_Presentation_Pilzer&Tomecek)

Example of a published paper deriving in part from BI 547 (Marine Semester students in bold):

Reitzel AM, Sullivan JC, Brown BK, Chin DW, Cira EK, Edquist SK, Genco BM, Joseph OC, Kaufman CA, Kovitvongsa K, Muñoz MM, Negri TL, Taffel JR, Zuehlke RT, Finnerty JR (2007) Ecological and developmental dynamics of a host-parasite system involving a sea anemone and two ctenophores. J. Parasitology 93: 1392-1402. (ReitzelEtAl_JParasitology_2007)

Additional costs: This course does involve a couple of day-long trips in the field. All transportation costs for these trips are covered by BU tuition.

Course photos: