In August, Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Ashleigh Smythe joined five other scientists and scuba divers for two weeks of field research on the island of Tobago, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, in the southern Caribbean Ocean. The research was funded by a National Science Foundation grant awarded to Rick Hochberg of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.
According to Smythe, the primary aim of the grant is to collect tiny worms in the phylum Gastrotricha. Collecting efforts for these animals also yield many other members of the meiofauna, microscopic animals living in marine sediments. A major component of meiofauna are worms in the phylum Nematoda, Smythe’s primary area of research.
The trip, her second to Tobago, allowed Smythe to document the nematode diversity found there and collect specimens for ongoing phylogenetic research projects. Specimens were identified using light microscopes on the island but were also preserved for future DNA analysis that will allow for phylogenetic research and the detection of cryptic species not distinguishable by morphology alone.