Q&A: UF researcher discusses her first deep-sea expedition

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“I’m a doctoral student in Joe Ryan’s lab at UF’s Whitney Laboratory. In collaboration with Dr. Gustav Paulay at UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History, we are studying the evolution of sea cucumbers, a group of animals that are closely related to sea stars and sea urchins. Sea cucumbers are found in every region of the ocean, from the coast to the deep sea and from tropical equatorial waters to each of the poles.

Participating in this research expedition allowed me to observe these animals directly in an environment normally inaccessible to most researchers, and it allowed us to expand the number of individual species of sea cucumbers we are studying. Part of my research will involve a comparative study of sea cucumbers found in the coastal regions and the deep sea, so this research cruise provided me with important material.

In addition to sea cucumbers, we also collected many different types of invertebrates such as sea slugs, sponges and polychaetes. These animals will provide significant information regarding the biodiversity of the Exuma Sound region. Because this area is largely unstudied, there is always a chance we may find we have discovered some new species once full analysis is completed of the materials collected, which is very exciting!”