Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
2012 bioluminescence and biodiversity expedition


Day 3—The spectacular diversity of siphonophores
July 12, 2013

A group of collaborators from Brown University are on board this expedition. Casey Dunn's lab investigates how evolution produced the diversity of life. On this expedition, they are focused on siphonophores, which are colonial cnidarians. Most of the siphonophore species are found in the deep-sea and they are poorly known due to the difficulty in sampling these delicate animals from the deep sea. Casey's group is most interested in the evolution of their colonial-level organization and development, but because so many siphonophores are still as yet unknown to science, the group also works with the Haddock lab on systematics, morphology, and natural history.

The morphological diversity of siphonophores found in the deep sea is spectacular. They range from the longest animal in the world (Praya), to rocket-shaped (Kephyes), long and frilly (Bargmannia), and small and round, among many other forms.

A diverse collection of siphonophores. Clockwise from upper left: Praya dubia, Kephyes ovata, a benthic siphonophore, and Bargmannia elongata.

Casey's group is collecting a variety of siphonophores on this cruise. They will isolate the RNA and sequence thousands of genes to develop a phylogeny (the evolutionary development and history of a species and higher taxonomic grouping of organisms). They are also interested in the genes expressed by the different bodies within a siphonophore colony. For example, there are feeding, reproductive, and swimming parts that make up each colony.

Stefan Siebert is working on the species description of this siphonophore in the genus Apolemia. At the top is the nectosome (head), which includes the swimming bells. At the bottom, the shaggy part, is the tail, made up of feeding, reproductive, and protective bodies. Photo by Stefan Siebert.

Steve Haddock, Casey Dunn, Stefan, and another collaborator, Phil Pugh (National Oceanographic Centre in the United Kingdom) have a publication recently accepted describing two of the most common species of Apolemia that we see here in the Monterey Bay region.

Studying the genes expressed in each body of the colony will give clues to the functional evolution within the siphonophores but also has implications for the understanding of functional specialization on a cellular level in all organisms and therefore, evolution throughout the tree of life.

Steve and Casey work together to carefully remove a delicate siphonophore from a detritus sampler.
Freya sorts the different bodies of the colony from a collected siphonophore.
Stefan explains the morphology of this undescribed siphonophore. He spent a lot of time in the lab taking detailed photo-montages of the specimens he works on to better understand each part, as well to use in figures for publication.

—Susan von Thun

Previous log Next log

 Logbook

Day 6 Day 6
July 15, 2013
The last day (in more ways than one)


Day 5 Day 5
July 14, 2013
Friends and interns


Day 4 Day 4
July 13, 2013
Tribute to an inspiring mentor


Day 3 Day 3
July 12, 2013
The spectacular diversity of siphonophores


Day 2 Day 2
July 11, 2013
The best bang for the buck!



Day 1 Day 1
July 10, 2013
Out to sea


 Equipment

R/V Western Flyer

The R/V Western Flyer is a small water-plane area twin hull (SWATH) oceanographic research vessel measuring 35.6 meters long and 16.2 meters wide. It was designed and constructed for MBARI to serve as the support vessel for ROV operations. Her missions include the Monterey Bay as well as extended cruises to Hawaii, Gulf of California, and the Pacific Northwest.

ROV Doc Ricketts

ROV Doc Ricketts is MBARI's next generation ROV. The system breaks new ground in providing an integrated unmanned submersible research platform, with many powerful features providing efficient, reliable, and precise sampling and data collection in a wide range of missions.

Detritus sampler

Detritus samplers are large plexiglass containers with lids that can be controlled by the pilot of the ROV and gently closed once an organism is trapped inside.

High frequency suction sampler

This sampler acts like a vacuum cleaner sucking up samples and depositing them into one of the 12 buckets.

Blue-water scuba rig

Blue-water diving is a highly specialized mode of scientific diving that lets researchers observe, experiment, and collect delicate midwater organisms in situ. A weighted line is suspended from the surface for the divers to attach the "trapeze" to which they attach their individual safety lines. Divers are attached to their safety lines by quick releases and a safety diver watches over all of them from near the trapeze throughout the dive.

Two-meter midwater trawl

A midwater trawl collects specimens while being towed behind the Western Flyer. Researchers have the option of trawling with the net open (as seen in this photo) or keeping the net closed until a particular depth is reached and then opening the net. The net can then be closed prior to recovery. This provides scientists with a discrete sample from a particular depth.

 Research Team

Steve Haddock
Chief Scientist
MBARI

Steve Haddock studies the biodiversity and bio-optical properties of gelatinous zooplankton (various types of jelly-like animals). He uses molecular methods along with morphological traits to examine the relationships of rarely-studied, deep-sea comb jellies and other open-ocean drifters, many of which are new to science. These animals also are able to make their own light (bioluminescence), and Steve is interested in the genes involved in light-production.

Lynne Christianson
Senior Research Technician
MBARI

Lynne works in Steve Haddock's laboratory. Her research focuses on exploring the biodiversity of marine zooplankton, especially cnidarians and ctenophores (jellies) and phaeodarians (radiolarians). She uses the tools of molecular biology to aid in the identification of these animals, to study their evolutionary relationships, and to investigate the origin and function of bioluminescence and fluorescence. In addition to assisting in the collection and examination of animals from ROV dives, trawls, and blue-water scuba dives, her main job will be cruise logistics. Her goal is to make this cruise as successful as possible for all the scientists on board!

Meghan Powers
Graduate Research Assistant
MBARI

Meghan is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, working in Steve Haddock's lab. Her research is focused on understanding the molecular biology and evolution of bioluminescence in a variety of deep-sea zooplankton including cephalopods, chaetognaths, and jellyfish.

Danielle Haddock
Senior Grants & Accounting Specialist
MBARI

Danielle has a background in biology and grant writing and handles all external funding at MBARI which includes managing grants, negotiating contracts, monitoring subawards, making people talk to each other. She is still floored by the seafaring life.

Susan von Thun
Senior Research Technician
MBARI

Susan works in the MBARI video lab, where her primary responsibility is to watch video taken with MBARI's remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and make observations about the organisms, behaviors, equipment, and geological features that she sees. While annotating video, she's become adept at identifying numerous deep-sea organisms, specializing in midwater organisms. She also works on MBARI's social media outlets. On this expedition, she will be in charge of the daily reports from this expedition and will assist with other science crew tasks.

Alexander Jaffe
Summer Intern
MBARI

Alexander is an undergraduate at Harvard College, where he is majoring in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. This summer, he is working as an intern with Steve Haddock on a project examining the ecology and diversity of midwater organisms, focusing specifically on a set of krill-eating, gelatinous zooplankton and patterns of their spatio-temporal distribution in the Greater Monterey Bay.

Casey Dunn
Assistant Professor
Brown University

Casey is an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University. His lab studies the evolution and development of siphonophores, a group of colonial jellyfish that include the Portuguese Man of War. Many siphonophores live exclusively in the deep sea, and ROVs are the only way to collect them intact. Casey's lab also studies the evolutionary relationships between animals. See http://dunnlab.org for more.


Freya Goetz
Research Assistant
Brown University

Freya Goetz is the research assistant to Casey Dunn at Brown University. Her interests are very broad and include phylogenetics, invertebrate symbioses, bioluminescence, chaetognath morphology, intertidal ecology, and scientific illustration of marine invertebrates (especially gelatinous zooplankton). She is currently working with Stefan Siebert to characterize gene expression spatially within a siphonophore colony, Nanomia bijuga. She is crossing her fingers for calm seas and quiet wind to maximize blue-water diving possibilities!


Stefan Siebert
Postdoctoral Fellow
Brown University

Stefan Siebert is a postdoctoral fellow in the Dunn lab at Brown University and is interested in the developmental complexity of siphonophores, a group of colonial animals belonging to the Cnidaria. He is looking forward to collecting specimens for descriptive work and for the molecular characterization of colony formation.

Jamie Baldwin-Fergus
Postdoctoral Scholar
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Jamie primarily studies topics relating to visual ecology. Currently, Jamie is studying how vision physiology, optical environment, and ecological associations shape visual adaptations in hyperiid amphipods. Hyperiid amphipods are small crustacean invertebrates that are abundant from the surface down to the deepest depths of the oceans, with particular abundance in the twilight zone (200-1000 m). At twilight zone depths, available light is limited to increasingly dim and blue down-welling light and bioluminescence. In this zone, the competition to see and not be seen is a matter of life or death. As a result, hyperiids have huge variation in the shapes and function of their eyes, likely an evolutionary response to the complexities of the midwater optical environment.