Training in Tropical Taxonomy

2018 Courses

Systematics and Ecology of Caribbean Polychaetes

Systematics and Ecology of Caribbean Polychaetes

1 July - 14 July 2018
Bocas Research Station, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Leslie Harris
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, California

Sergio I. Salazar-Vallejo
El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, México

Luis Carrera-Parra
El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, México


Dr. Rachel Collin

Registration Fee:
$850 (includes room and board, STRI registration fee, etc.). Some need-based fellowships are available

Course Description

Polychaetes are under appreciated but highly important components in marine ecosystems. The course is aimed at graduate students, post-docs, or professionals who work or plan to work on taxonomic and or ecological studies with polychaetes in general and Caribbean species in particular. The participants in this course will:

Although polychaetes are largely unknown to most people our understanding of the impacts of human activities on the oceans can be monitored accurately only through the careful study of these fascinating animals. Polychaetes comprise a major animal lineage with well over 16,000 recognized species that occupy a wide range of marine environments. They form a major component of benthic communities from the intertidal to abyssal depths, in soft sediments, coral reefs and other hard substrates. Many members of this ancient group are ecologically and economically important as ecosystem engineers, as food sources for other organisms, as the basis of commercial enterprises, as indicators of environmental health, and as invasive or pest species.  The over 80 families of polychaetes show an amazing array of body forms and sizes. As one of the few segmented phyla, annelids are key to understanding the evolution of bilaterian body plans.

Bocas del Toro has a rich polychaete fauna.  To date approximately 400 species have been found in the area, about half of them described and half of them provisional species in need of further identification.  The course will be most useful for students from the greater Caribbean as most species are wide-spread through-out the región but anyone wishing to gain experience with the group will benefit. 

This course will last 13 day, split between field collecting and lab work. After the 2013 Bocas polychaete workshop the students were asked to evaluate the course.  Overall they preferred to spend as much time as possible learning the characters & techniques that would enable them to proceed on their own after returning home.  Accordingly, the main focus here will be on basic systematics & ecology with a minor emphasis on phylogeny. A pdf library of 1600+ publications on or relevant to Caribbean polychaetes will be provided.

Daily activities will include 2 to 3 lectures, discussion, and laboratory practice. Field trips will be arranged with the station staff to visit at least once each of the different types of environments (soft sediments, mangrove, coral rocks, sandy beaches) near the Bocas Research station to collect baseline data for conservation and for future studies.  Snorkeling will be part of the field work but not SCUBA.  Those who want to dive can arrange to do so through one of the local dive shops on their day off.

During the second half of the course students will each prepare descriptive species pages using specimen they collect & photograph live.  The pages will be incorporated into a photo ID guide for the use of station visitors, students, outreach programs, and others.

Application: Please e-mail your CV, 1 letter of recommendation, and a 1-2 page statement explaining your background and reasons for taking the course, to before January 30th, 2018. Limit 12 students. To be considered for a need-based fellowship, applicants should send a description of their need, their efforts to obtain funding from other available sources, and a travel budget. For more information see