Spring 2021: Division of Invertebrate Zoology

Message from the Chair

Jon Allen, Chair.DIZ@sicb.org

Dear DIZ,

The stauromedusa (or stalked jellyfish) Haliclystus sanjuanensis. Photo Credit: Jon Allen

Hello from a very spring-like Virginia! As I write this I am working from home, largely exiled to my deck while my children and wife occupy the new home office spaces that we have spent the last year creating and refining. The good news is that my deck is much more hospitable now that we have officially entered into spring and I can hear the birds (aka invertebrate consumers) singing and watch the yard getting greener by the second. It gives me a sense of hope that 2021 has better days in store for us all.

I am also heartened by what I thought was a very successful virtual meeting. We had a large number of talks and posters in DIZ and an extended time in which to view them. While I don’t want to be forced to repeat this entirely virtual meeting again (seeing you all is the best part!), I think there were some things that may get incorporated for the future that can enhance even in-person meetings. If you found something particularly wonderful or engaging about the format this year that you think could be carried forward, please reach out and let me know. I am sure the Executive Committee will be eager to hear your feedback.

I know that we all want to extend a heartfelt thank you to Ken Halanych, our out-going DIZ Chair. Ken’s leadership was especially important this past year of course, as we saw so many unexpected changes to the format and administration of the annual meeting. But Ken’s leadership also helped us usher in a new way to select and honor our best student presentations. Those changes seem like a lifetime ago now, but they were a critical change to the way DIZ operates. I look forward to being able to thank Ken in person in January 2022!

In the Fall newsletter Ken mentioned that we are transitioning the Chair of the Libbie Hyman Scholarship committee from Jennifer Burnaford to Abigail Cahill. We are extraordinarily lucky to have had Jennifer serve as the Chair of this committee and deliver awards to so many students. We are also lucky that Jennifer volunteered to help bridge the award process this year and get Abigail up to speed on the way things run. That was especially important in a year of so many other upheavals.

Speaking of Libbie Hyman, many of you will remember that the auction in 2019 (run by Abigail Cahill) was a tremendous success in raising funds for the scholarship fund. It is time to step up to the plate once again. We are actively seeking someone to step forward and Chair the auction committee for the 2022 meeting. We are also, of course, looking for folks who may be willing to donate items to auction off! If you have an interest in helping to perform this important role in the division, please get in touch with me or with our divisional secretary, Justin McAlister. We need your help!

Lastly, it is election season! We have two excellent nominees to replace Justin McAlister as Divisional Secretary. Justin will serve through the end of the 2022 meeting, which means we need to vote this spring on a new Secretary to learn the ropes from Justin and take over next January. The two nominees for this year are Dr. Kelly Dorgan at Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Dr. Christina Zakas at North Carolina State University. Both are familiar faces at SICB, but you can learn more about them and their backgrounds at the end of this newsletter. We are always looking for new folks to get involved in DIZ leadership. If you would like to be considered in the future for a nomination, please let me know!



Message from the Program Officer

Karen Chan, DPO.DIZ@sicb.org

Hello invertebrate enthusiasts. 

What a year it has been! While we did not meet in person in Washington D.C. in January, I have enjoyed learning from you during our extended virtual conference. There is something nice about being able to watch all your amazing talks “on-demand.” Thank you for participating and working with us during these challenging times. If you would like to send us feedback, you can send me an email.

Another big thank you to our student presenters and our volunteer judges who worked through a brand-new format of presentation and judging. Our esteemed panel members included Anne Boettger, Abigail Cahill, Elizabeth Davis-Berg, Rick Hochberg, Jan Pechenik, Robert Podolsky, Adam Reitzel, Robert Thacker, Janice Voltzow, and Christina Zakas. We transitioned to a new Best Student Presentation format in 2021 with all the best oral presentations in a single session. I appreciate all of you who attended the session live. Please also join me to congratulate our winners. 

The winner of the Mary Rice Best Oral Contribution is Emily Branam, “Biomechanical role of dorsal thoracic spine in swimming of barnacle nauplii.”

Runner-up: Julia Notar, “A living shag rug: Sea urchin spine density differs by habitat and has consequences for vision.

The winner of the Alan Kohn Best Student Poster is: Joseph Mack, “From mud to meat: Employing phylogenetics and metabarcoding gut-content analyses to test evolutionary hypotheses of trophic transitions in a group of predatory annelids”.

Runner up:  Michael Drummond, “A new species of bioluminescent ostracod from the reefs of Carrie Bow Caye, Belize (Ostracoda: Myodocopida: Cypridinidae).

As we look forward to meeting in person in Phoenix in 2022. I am also happy to share with you that we will be organizing a special contributed session to celebrate the life of Prof. John S. Pearse. Please consider contributing a paper to honor this  inspirational scientist in our field. We are also going to sponsor four exciting symposia. They are:

  • The deep and shallow history of aquatic life’s passages between marine and freshwater habitats
  • Lesser known transitions: organismal form and function across abiotic gradients
  • Open source solutions in experimental design
  • DNA metabarcoding across disciplines: sequencing our way to greater understanding across scales of biological organization

If you have an idea for a symposium, I am here to help you turn it into a reality for 2023. Send me an email and I will provide you with more details about the application process and suggestions for successful proposals.

I hope you continue to find 2021 intellectually stimulating, rewarding, and successful. 


Karen Chan


Message from the Secretary

Justin McAlister, secretary.diz@sicb.org

Dear members of the DIZ,

Crazy carny or dedicated invertebrate biologist spawning corals? Photo Credit: Justin McAlister

If ever there was a year when invertophiles could find solace spending time with the invertebrate loves of our lives it was 2020. I suspect that if nothing else could be relied upon in this tumultuous year, you knew that your favorite little critters were going about their daily business without the slightest knowledge (or care) about our COVID pandemic. And within that, I hope you found a bit of comfort – I know that I certainly did! A high note for me: I spent late-July and early August of 2020 spawning corals (Astrangia poculata) on my back patio and in my basement, which I converted into a makeshift lab. Good times, good times!

In sad news, we lost our dear friend, mentor, and colleague, Dr. John Pearse, this past year. I hope you were able to participate in the simultaneous tide-pooling experience that was set up to honor his memory. I had a chance to chat with John on several occasions over the years at conferences and he was always encouraging and excited to talk about invertebrates. As Karen mentioned in her update, DIZ is planning a special symposium session to remember John. We’ll keep you posted as plans develop and I encourage you to consider participating. 

John and Vicki Pearse with Maria Byrne at the 8th North American Echinoderm Conference in 2017. Photo Credit: Justin McAlister

In happier news, our 2021 Virtual Annual Meeting was a success and I hope we’ll be able to keep our favorite parts of it going forward into the future. Our DIZ business (member’s) meeting (also virtual) was well-attended, and the meeting minutes are available here.

This year we will hold elections for our next DIZ Secretary, who will take the reins from me at the conclusion of the next Annual Meeting (2022 in Phoenix!). We have the following two excellent candidates for you to choose from: Dr. Kelly Dorgan from Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Dr. Christina Zakas from North Carolina State University. Please find more information about these candidates at the end of this newsletter.

The Northern Star Coral, Astrangia poculata, spawning eggs. Photo Credit: Justin McAlister

As Jon mentioned, Jennifer Burnaford will be stepping down from her long-held post overseeing the Libbie Hyman Scholarship committee. My understanding is that she served in this position for 10+ years! Be sure to thank Jennifer the next time you see her! On behalf of numerous DIZ Officers over your long tenure, thank you, Jennifer!

 I hope that 2021 will provide you with new opportunities to share your love of invertebrates. Please contact me if you have exciting or interesting news to share and I’ll be sure to pass it along to our members.






Message from Student and Postdoctoral Affairs Committee Representative

Rebecca Varney, rvarney@crimson.ua.edu

Rebecca Varney

Snail Mail (Literally)

We just passed the one-year mark of the pandemic. For an entire year, many of us have been shut out of our labs, forced to work at odd hours, hoping for a vaccine to become available. For a year, I think many of us have faced a lot of uncertainty, and it is easy to feel somehow less entitled to care about “small things” as we watch peers’ research programs struggle. But most of us study small things for a living, so perhaps we can all agree that small things make a big difference.

I have been fortunate because my pandemic isolation-home has been near the water. My former master’s advisor lives here, and he messaged me a month after quarantine began. “I have measured my canoe carefully, and the seats are just over 6 feet apart.” It wasn’t long before our relief in being outdoors became “what can we do?”. So, we started asking friends, collaborators, and perfect strangers what samples could be gathered from the Gulf Coast.

I have collected 17 species for others so far (6 phyla), and I only know one of the scientists personally. Shrimp were mailed to two places in Texas, where they contributed to a PhD project related to range mapping. Starfish are currently regenerating arms and gorging on shrimp pellets. Annelids went to a different lab in Florida. I caught a fishing spider! In a terrestrial twist, a fully intact beaver skeleton got picked up by a local mammologist (related: giving directions via kayak is not my strength, and GPS coordinates are a must). And I mailed snail shells 5,000 miles!

So many of these samples were addressed to people’s houses. I knew I wasn’t the only one with a microscope on my kitchen table, but … wow. You are all incredible, and the work you are doing under such limiting circumstances is inspiring. So many of you have colonies of snails growing in your kitchen, fishtanks full of worms in your living rooms, and one of you is keeping a large number of crayfish in a spare bathtub. I’ve seen parts of museum collections in pantries, and more than once I’ve seen some rather large computers in dining rooms (in their defense, the VPNs never stay connected, we all know). You all have persisted in achieving research goals despite the challenges, and new projects have started in part because of the strange circumstances.

To send samples around the globe, I’ve spent a lot of time reading import/export laws and permits to make sure everything was legal! But collecting for random scientists has become one of my bright spots of joy. It has become a pastime that gets me outside (masked; surgical or SCUBA, depending), and I feel able to maybe make a small difference for somebody who can’t access their study animals right now. I don’t know most of them, but we are all scientists. And, wrapping snail shells in bubble wrap, even though I haven’t met anybody new in person for over a year, I get to feel connected to the very special community that is all of you.

Stay well!

Rebecca Varney


Left: Marsh snails in Florida. Empty shells were sent to Europe. Center: The coast of Pensacola, Florida, as seen from canoe.  Right: An almost emerged dragonfly that was sent to a researcher in another part of Florida.  All photo credits: Rebecca Varney.


Message from the Libbie Hyman Scholarship Committee Chair

Jennifer Burnaford, Chair, Libbie H. Hyman Memorial Scholarship Committee

Applications for the 2021 Libbie H. Hyman Memorial Scholarship were due on 4 February. Applications were reviewed by a three-person committee: Dr. Will Jaeckle, Dr. Shanna Hanes, and Dr. Abigail Cahill. This committee awarded funds to two recipients for in-person field station experiences during the Summer 2021 field season.

We awarded a $664 scholarship to John Deitsch to support his research experience at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire, USA. John is in his third year as an undergraduate at Cornell University, working in the lab of Dr. Sara Kaiser. John’s research, which is partially supported through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Hubbard Brook Field Ornithology Program, will focus on the effects of pollution from artificial light at night (ALAN) on predation and parasitism pressure on caterpillars. The results from his study will provide insight into how quickly arthropod communities change in response to ALAN, how low-level illumination affects predation and parasitism pressure on caterpillars, and whether parasitoids congregate around light sources.

We awarded $3990 to Taylor Naquin to support participation in the Marine Invertebrate Zoology course at the University of Washington Friday Harbor Laboratories. Taylor will be starting in the Fall as a graduate student in the lab of Jennifer Burnaford at California State University Fullerton. Taylor has a broad background in marine ecology, and this course will give her an opportunity to increase her depth of knowledge of marine invertebrates, with a comprehensive analysis of diversity and morphology that will establish a solid foundation for her graduate work.

As always, I would like to acknowledge the exceptional team which makes the application and award process move smoothly, with thanks to Will Jaeckle, Shanna Hanes, and Abigail Cahill for their thoughtful and thorough review of applications and SICB Webmaster Ruedi Birenheide for all of his work with the webpage and application logistics. 

This round of applications and this Spring 2021 newsletter entry marks the end of my tenure as the Chair of the LHH scholarship committee after 10 years of service. I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of this committee, and to work with an exceptionally dedicated group of invertebrate biologists who are committed to supporting students in their scholarly endeavors. The LHH award is truly unique and thus very special. I am thrilled to turn over the position of committee Chair to Abigail Cahill – stay tuned for news from her in the Fall!

The Libbie H. Hyman Award provides funding to support the first significant field station experience for advanced undergraduates or early career graduate students pursuing coursework or research on invertebrates. This first field station experience is typically a transformative period in the career and life of a student. We deeply appreciate the donations which allow us to support these experiences. As the costs associated with summer field station experiences continue to rise, we are always happy to accept contributions to the Scholarship Fund so that we can increase the amount of support to these deserving students. To contribute, click on Donate to SICB on the SICB home page or send a check to:

SICB Business Office
Libbie H. Hyman Memorial Scholarship Fund
1313 Dolley Madison Blvd., Suite 402
McLean, VA 22101

Checks should be made payable to SICB and marked as a “Contribution to the Libbie H. Hyman Memorial Scholarship Fund.” All contributions are tax deductible. Thanks for your help!

The egg mass of a Dirona pellucida, as laid on a glass bowl in Jon Allen’s lab at FHL – clearly marking it as safe for embryological work! Photo Credit: Jon Allen

Candidates for Divisional Secretary

Kelly Dorgan 

Kelly Dorgan

Current position: Senior Marine Scientist II, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, AL; Associate Professor of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama

Education: B.S. University of California Santa Cruz (2001); Ph.D. University of Maine (2007)

Professional Experience: Senior Marine Scientist I-II, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, AL (2013-present); Assistant-Associate Professor of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama (2014-present); Postdoctoral Researcher, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (2011-2013); Postdoctoral Researcher, University of California Berkeley (2007-2010)

SICB activities: Member (~15 years), recipient of the Carl Gans award (DCB, 2012)

Other memberships: Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation, American Association of Underwater Sciences

Research interests: Animal-sediment interactions; polychaete functional morphology; biomechanics and energetics of burrowing; sediment ecology

Goals Statement: I have been an enthusiastic participant in SICB meetings for years and am excited about this opportunity to contribute to DIZ and learn more about how SICB is run. For more than half of my life, I have been fascinated by the diverse and bizarre morphologies, behaviors and life history strategies of invertebrates. Every time I come to a SICB meeting, I find inspiration to take my research in new directions, to introduce students to the mysteries of invertebrates, and to build relationships with creative and interesting people. As a graduate student, and then as a postdoc and new faculty member bringing students to SICB, I have appreciated how welcoming and inclusive the society is to students. As a newly tenured faculty member in a state with a long and complicated history in the civil rights movement at a time in which we as a country are poised to make significant advances toward racial equity, I am eager to learn from and contribute to SICB’s efforts towards broadening participation in science.


Christina Zakas 

Christina Zakas

Current Position: Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

Education: BS in Biology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2004); PhD in Genetics, University of Georgia (2011)

Professional Experience: Assistant Professor, North Carolina State University (2019-present); Postdoctoral Fellow, New York University (2012-2019); Whitman Visiting Fellow at the Marine Biological Labs (2019, 2021)

SICB Activities: Member and presenter since 2010 in DIZ and DEDB

Other memberships: Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution, Pan-American Society for Evolutionary Developmental Biology, Genetics Society of America

Research Interests: Life-history Evolution, EvoDevo, Developmental Genetics, Marine Larvae

Goals Statement: I first came to SICB as an early graduate student and while my research since has spanned the fields of Evolutionary Ecology, Genetics, and Development, I’ve had SICB and DIZ as a common thread throughout. I am happy to support the integrative community in DIZ, and I am excited about the opportunity to connect researchers in different fields who work on amazing invertebrate systems. I believe I can contribute new ideas for building resources in the division and the broader community.