Bocas del Toro Research Station

Research Projects

Kristin Hultgren

Smithsonian Marine Science Network Postdoctoral Fellow
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Naos Marine Lab
Unit 9100 BOX 0948
DPO AA 34002-9998

Lissodendoryx columbiensis

Close-up of the sponge Lissodendoryx columbiensis, showing sponge canals.

I am broadly interested in integrating ecological and evolutionary methods to studying ecological and behavioral diversity in marine invertebrates. I rely on multiple approaches— ecological studies, behavioral assays, and phylogenetic methods—to study the evolution of adaptive traits and how these traits influence coexistence and diversity in communities at multiple scales.

My current research focuses on how closely related species successfully coexist in similar habitats. I study this question and others in the Caribbean shrimp group Synalpheus, a diverse group of 40+ sponge-dwelling shrimp species that live in the interior canals of sponges in coral reefs. These closely related shrimps compete strongly for unoccupied sponge hosts in the field, and have strong morphological adaptations to their host sponges. I am investigating how phylogenetic relatedness and morphological similarity interact to influence coexistence of Synalpheus species in sponge hosts. In collaboration with Dr. Emmett Duffy, I am conducting a multi-site biogeographic study characterizing distribution, host use, and morphology of Synalpheus across the Caribbean.
At Bocas, I am also working on a number of specific projects investigating the ecology of this system. I am investigating how sponge canal size, volume, and other factors influence which Synalpheus live in particular sponges and how multiple shrimp species coexist within individual sponges. I am also interested in the nature of the shrimp-sponge relationship. For example, living in sponges protects shrimps from fish predators on coral reefs, but it is unknown whether shrimp inhabitants have positive impacts on sponges.

Synalpheus n. sp.

Synalpheus n. sp. “bocas”, one of many Caribbean sponge-dwelling snapping shrimp in the gamberalloides group. Synalpheus shrimps have an enlarged major chela used for fighting, and sponge-dwelling species have a streamlined body shape well-suited to life in sponge canals.

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