Sponge extravaganza in Bocas del Toro
August 20, 2012
Among the most ancient animals, sponges date from the Precambrian Era, 650 million years ago. How do sponges fit into the tree of life? And why are there so many sponge species in Panama? From Aug. 6-16, Robert Thacker, University of Alabama, and Maria Cristina Diaz, Museo Marino de Margarita, Venezuela, invited sponge experts to visit Bocas del Toro Research Station where they discussed sponge genetics and family trees and contributed to a growing list of sponge species from Panama.
“The incredible diversity of marine sponges in Bocas del Toro is a mystery,” said Cristina “Since my first visit in 2003, the species list grows by about 30 percent with every expedition, reaching 173 in 2010, when Bob Thacker and I declared that Bocas is a hotspot for sponge diversity.”
This year’s workshop is likely to add another 40 new species to the list. “I believe that Panama’s complex geological history, combined with the structure of the lagoons, extensive mangroves and shallow reef formations, created unique conditions here,” she added.