We study sponges to understand how key features of animal body plans — including polarity, gastrulation and tissues, the germ lineage, nerves and muscle — may have arisen during evolution. Our work takes a whole organism approach, from ecology to physiology and molecular biology. In the lab we use a practical and tractable model system, sponges hatched from gemmules, with which we can look for genes expressed, manipulate phenotype, and study behaviour and signalling in the petri dish.
In the field we use SCUBA and more often the unmanned submersible ROPOS (ropos.com, below) to study the animals in their environment. This powerful tool has allowed us to measure feeding, pumping, and study silica and nutrient content of sponges at great depths.
Canada makes Sponge Reefs a Marine Protected Area
Several years ago four glass sponge reef complexes covering over 1000 square kilometers were identified as an 'Area of Interest' for designation as a marine protected area (MPA). On February 17th the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominique LeBlanc, announced the creation of the reefs as a Marine Protected Area, and moreover, closed the adjacent 'Adaptive Management Zone' to bottom contact fisheries.
Although much of the reefs has been damaged already, this latest move signals a turning point in protection of precious deep water habitats. For more on the new MPA read on...